January 7, 2009

…The next day after my less-than-satisfying St. Anne experience, I had chores to do. First, a stop at my silk flowers friend Hi at Hi’s Silk Flowers to buy yet another phony tree for my rearranged living room (and to wish him an early Chinese New Year), then a trip to Lowe’s for a new kitchen sink faucet. An in between, perhaps a couple of tacos at a little Mexican stand. Or so I thought…

Allow me to take a moment to mention Hi. Hi is Vietnamese, and he has this cool store filled with silk flowers and artificial plants and trees of every imaginable size, color and type. Not to mention the Chinese paintings and lithographs which are beyond lovely. Ya see, out here in the Valley of the Sun, the summers are so hot that the sunscreens on our windows can make it difficult to grow plants inside, and outside only the heartiest desert flora and fauna can take the incredibly hot temperatures. So Hi does a booming business for people like me who don’t have a green thumb and just want to see greenery inside and out all year long.

Anyways, Hi’s a friendly and outgoing guy – something you don’t see much of around these parts, believe me – and we always talk when I stop by. Sometimes I’ll stop by just to say hello, and he’ll never pressure me to buy anything. And he’ll always knock a few dollars off of anything I buy. So being around Hi is always a pleasant experience…

But I digress.

So I was in a good frame of mind after leaving Hi’s and heading towards Lowe’s (I guess you can call it a “Hi’s and Lowe’s” trip). Anyways, there I was driving down Gilbert Road (as I’d done only about a thousand times since arriving in this area) when out of the corner of my eye I saw a small gold dome with a cross on top that I had never noticed before. I immediately turned onto this tiny road to find this small church with a small brick tower topped with a gold dome standing in front of a medium-sized parking lot. No sign anywhere. It was strange to see this church standing there (like I say, I must have passed by it hundreds upon hundreds of times without ever noticing it before, and it’s less than a ten-minute drive from the house).

I pulled up in front and noticed a piece of paper tacked onto the light blue door, and now I’m intrigued. I got out of my car and went to the door. The paper sign said “St. Thomas the Apostle Byzantine Catholic Church”. I could hear voices inside, but the door was locked. I was just getting ready to head back to my car when the door opened and I found myself greeting several elderly ladies who were obviously closing up the church after Sunday worship.

The first thing they asked was my name and where I was from, and they offered me a leaflet and a church calendar. I was floored – between the two Roman Catholic and two Episcopal churches I had attended services at since arriving here in AZ five years ago no one had ever bothered to ask me that. These women were obviously schooled in welcoming people, something many churches seem incapable of doing well. After a few minutes of small talk and pleasantries, one of the women, her name was Virginia, asked if I would like to see the inside of the church, and she proceeded to give me the grand tour.

It was a lovely inside – fairly small, able to seat probably 150 or so if filled, lots of dark wood, with brightly painted icons in the Greek and Russian traditions all around. (Click on the gallery on the link above and you’ll see what I mean.) It was set up like your typical Orthodox church with the altar behind the screen and such, but rather than feeling imposing and stuffy, it felt warm, intimate, and monastic to me. Like an otherworldly place set amidst the real world.

Virginia mentioned that while the Byzantine Catholic Church worshipped in the Eastern tradition (something I’ve always loved but could never quite get a handle on) it was nevertheless in full communion with Rome. Now you’re talking!, thought. Heck, I could feel my heart begin to melt. And when she said that their Saturday 5 PM Vespers only attracted 9-10 people because of its monastic feel, well, it seemed as if some gigantic life tumblers were somehow clicking into place.

When Virginia asked if I wanted to meet their pastor, I declined. I didn’t want to press my luck. We ended up talking for about an hour, and all I can say is we found a certain kinship in each other’s spirituality. For her, it was all about living your life as Christ led you, and finding your own spiritual home in a sacramental church where worship and reverence for God was primary and the center of one’s larger spiritual life. Taken seriously but not to the point of rules and rigidity, and leaving plenty of room for the Holy Spirit to operate, if you know what I mean.

So I’ll give Vespers a try this Saturday, and then the Divine Liturgy on Sunday to see how the whole thing feels, then take it from there. I’m still amazed at how the whole thing went down between Saturday and Sunday, but I’ve never doubted that miracles do occur and God’s time is not necessarily our time. At any rate, and no matter what happens, 2009 is off to a very interesting start.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:23 | Comment (1)
1 Comment
  1. How perfectly divine, Doug. My father grew up in the Russian Orthodox church and I have always been drawn to needing to know more. I love all the rituals and the sacredness of them…they feel so “ancient”. What a lovely welcome you were given…my hope for you is that this may become your new spiritual home. My vision says that it is.

    Comment by Jana — January 7, 2009 @ 5:53 am

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