This morning’s service was the Vesperal Liturgy of the Harrowing of Hell. During this service, we watched one of our new friends receive Baptism and several more of our new friends receive Chrismation. I’ve posted a few pictures I took on my cell phone. I apologize for the poor quality.
It was at this service that everything we’ve been experiencing through Lent, and especially Holy Week, finally caught up with me. The services on Thursday night and through Friday were absolutely intense. I have nothing in my personal history as a Protestant to compare with the depth, richness and beauty of these past few days. We have read so much Scripture, sang so many hymns, said so many prayers, and bowed and crossed ourselves so many times that we have virtually lived in a continual atmosphere of worship, prayer and Scripture the past few days. In addition, there are the layers upon layers of symbols, details and meaning that everything holds in the Orthodox Church. Everything is done for a reason, often many reasons, that ties every gesture, word and act back into the Gospel and the life of God.
So this morning, as service began, I happened to be standing near the large cross that had been placed in the center of sanctuary. I stood looking at the cross, simply bathing in all that has come before and in preparation for what was to come. As I gazed at the cross, my eyes lowered to the small image at the foot of the cross. It is a small image of a skull and bones, symbolizing death. And like a massive wave, the magnitude of Jesus’ life, crucifixion and resurrection washed over me. He has defeated death through death! Death is vanquished. He didn’t just forgive my sins. He completely and absolutely destroyed death and its power!
During one of the previous services, the entire congregation participated in a procession with candles outside the Church. As we re-entered the sanctuary, everyone walked through the sanctuary doors under the icon of Christ’s burial. This symbolized both our participating in Christ’s death and the fact that as we go through that death with him, we then enter his life, which is in his Church.
So my friends’ Baptism, Chrismations and first Communion as new members of Christ’s Holy Church pulsed with such meaning this morning.
As the service was drawing to an end, our priest was gifting each new member with a cross that is to be worn at all times. As he put the chain around the neck of one of my friends and hugged him, I heard him whisper, “Welcome home.”
At those words, tears welled in my eyes and I felt such an ache in my heart. I have been searching, for what I now know as “home,” for as long as I can remember. I was searching for it as a young teenager before I had ever heard of Jesus. I was searching for it after accepting Jesus into my life over twenty years ago. I have searched for it as God has lead me on my journey into Calvary Chapel, the Baptist Church, Youth with a Mission, the OMS Holiness Church, the Vineyard and the Emerging Church. And each step has brought me a little bit closer.
I yearn to hear those words, “Welcome home,” whispered into my ear one day. I long to find the place where the yearnings of my heart to be like Jesus are truly and fully met. Debbie and I hope to find a non-consumerist church community, where all of us — men, women, and children — train to follow Jesus together into his world. Will that be the Orthodox Church? A huge part of me hopes so. And if the last four months are any indication, it looks like it will be so. I feel everything has been preparing me to embrace such a spiritually and theologically deep, rich and full-life form of Christianity. Perhaps I have found home.