Dear Reporter …

Due to my weird and hectic schedule, I’ve missed a couple phone calls from a local newspaper reporter doing a story about Orthodoxy for this Saturday’s paper.

Rumour has it that he’s visited this Blog, so I’m going to use the medium to conduct an interview with myself in hopes that, when he next visits, he’ll lift any quotes and info necessary for his story. (God knows our little mission appreciates the publicity!)

Q: First off, why are you celebrating Easter on a different date than everyone else?

A: Because candy’s cheaper that way.

Q: But aren’t the lilies are more expensive?

A: You’re right! HERE’s a better explanation. Fr John Whiteford also offers an excellent answer.

Q: How old is your church?

A: As for the ORTHODOX CHURCH, here’s a snarky reply. As for our Mission parish of St Raphael, we are just about one year old. We are named for a “modern day” saint, Raphael Hawaweeny of Brooklyn.

Q: Tell me about your congregation.

A: Compared to your average Baptist church, we’re small — about 20-25 souls in attendance on Sundays. However, we’re a faithful group. We have about the same number for Wednesday & Saturday evenings as well! Most of our members are American Converts to Holy Orthodoxy. Our services are 100% in English. About half of our community is kids.

I’ve worked with convert missions for over 12 years now. It takes time, perseverance, and many sacrifices to make it work. All we’re called to do is be faithful. And that’s exactly what we’re doing right now as we plant this new Antiochian Orthodox Mission in Western North Carolina.

Q: Tell me about your reasons for converting to Orthodox Christianity.

A: Here’s the answer; and a few other bits of personal info.

Q: What are some of the struggles you’ve encountered with Orthodoxy in the South?

A: Some of the problems are within Orthodoxy itself. That being said, most people in North Carolina have never even heard of Orthodox Christianity. The question that is inevitably asked is,”So how is Orthodoxy different than, say, the Baptist church?” In reality, given the confines and brevity of normal conversation, there’s just no way to do justice to a question like that! From the outside we may look like exotic [Roman] Catholics. But starting with another Communion is not the way to properly answer the question. Come and see! That’s the best answer.

Q: How do you hope to draw people into the Church?

A: The Holy Spirit does a pretty good job of that. Over the past several hundred years the Orthodox have not been known for their great campaigns of evangelism. And, in our zeal for the Kingdom, we often make mistakes. Currently, the Orthodox Church is benefiting by all the changes taking place in mainstream Christian groups — like the Episcopalians, Methodists, Charismatics, etc. But converting to Orthodoxy solely because others are sliding toward heresy is not the most God-pleasing and long-lasting solution. It takes about two years AFTER being Orthodox for a person to really begin to struggle well within the Ancient Faith. Pastors often refer to this as the “Two Year Itch”. If the Convert can get past that, they’re probably home for good.

Q: Back to Pascha (Easter), tell me about the service.

A: We begin at 11:30pm on Saturday evening, having had a whole slate of Holy Week services. By the time we get to the Pascha service, Orthodox Christians have fasted from meat, dairy, wine, and oil for the past 50 days. Practically speaking, just knowing that the Fast is only a few hours from being broken is pretty exciting! 🙂

Anyway, the service begins in total darkness. Eventually a single candle emerges from the altar, held by the priest, and the faithful come forward to light their own candles. [This passing of the fire is symbolic of the miracle of the Holy Fire which occurs every Great & Holy Saturday at the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.] After the candles are lighted, we process outside (weather permitting) and around the building three times singing the hymn:

Thy Resurrection O Christ, our Saviour
The Angels in Heaven sing
Enable us on Earth
To Glorify Thee in purity of heart.

Three circuits being completed, the first Gospel of the Resurrection and the initial singing of the Paschal Troparion is done outside:

Christ is Risen from the dead
Trampling down Death by Death
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing Life!

This hymn will be repeated many times during the service once back inside the building.

Before reentry, the Priest knocks on the door with a Cross, saying:

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall enter in.

A voice from inside, representing the devil, asks:

Who is this King of glory?

The priest answers:

The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.

The priest the knocks again saying:

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall enter in.

And again the voice asks:

Who is this King of Glory?

The priest then replies:

The Lord of hosts, he is the King of Glory.

After this dialogue has been repeated the third time, the doors are swung open and the priest reenters followed by the congregation.

The faithful reenter the building — which is now brightly lighted. The atmosphere is one of great joy — not just because the Fast is ended, but the glorious light of the Resurrection enlivens the Christian heart like no other. It is truly a blessed event!

Following the Communion service, the priest gives out red eggs to the faithful, Pascha baskets are blessed, and we proceed to break the Fast by enjoying all of the previously forbidden foods: Lamb, Ham, Cheese, Mayonnaise, Wine, etc. This party lasts until about 4 or 5 am. For our community, after a bit of rest, we shall resume the celebration with Agape Vespers, Sunday at Noon — followed by yet another feasting meal. (Larger parishes may have daily Paschal services all week long.)

The Orthodox service of the Resurrection — PASCHA — is a wonderful time for folks to visit an Orthodox church.

Come & See!

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