[The Christian Century, April 13, 1994] When my friend Marvin came for a visit, I presumed he'd join us for vespers, out of curiosity or simple politeness. To my surprise he was deeply reluctant. Marvin is a dedicated convert to a conservative branch of the Presbyterian church, and it began to dawn on me that he might actively object to Orthodoxy. I recalled the evangelical Protestant anxiety about highly liturgical churches:
[Religion News Service, May 14, 1996] My friend Carolyn's icon of Mary of Egypt is completed, and on Sunday it was leaning against the brass candlestick on the altar. It shows a wild woman, fierce, gray hair flying out around a weathered face, her bony arm raised aloft.
[NPR, “All Things Considered,” March 4, 1997] Scattered among your friends and neighbors are those now living a shadow life: people observing Lent. For them Easter waits at the end of March, but preparing for Easter takes time; time for reflection, time for repentance and reordering a life. The Church counts backward seven weeks to allow this breathing space, and begins the season with Ash Wednesday.
[Religion News Service, March 24, 1997] ”Madness,“ writes the Rev. Luke Veronis, in one of his daily e‑mail messages from his beseiged apartment in Tirana, Albania. ”It is as if the entire country has gone crazy. I want to think that things are slowly getting back to normal, but I am fooling myself."
[NPR, “All Things Considered,” November 5, 1997] Jesus is lying on his side on my dining room floor, leaning against the radiator, balanced up on one finger and one toe like a gymnast. He is flattened, just a sheet of painted wood, and from pointed toe to the tip of his halo he is about four and a half feet tall. For protection, for storage, Jesus is swathed in a blue tablecloth that has been knotted around his ankles and pulled up over his head. When I push it aside I can see his form, a crucified body without a cross. His extended arms are like the wings of a bird; he floats in sorrow, head sunk toward one shoulder, eyes shut, face washed with death.
[NPR, “All Things Considered,” June 24, 1998] An hour before worship my husband and some guys from church arrive to set up, going down the alleylike passage to the side door, past cigarette butts and soda cans. It isn’t a church building, and it isn’t ours, except on Sunday morning; the rest of the week it’s a day care center for adults with psychiatric disabilities. Since we’re Orthodox Christians, creating a worship space takes some work.
A little church on Sunday morning is a negligible thing. It may be the meekest, and least conspicuous, thing in America. Someone zipping between Baltimore's airport and beltway might pass this one, a little stone church drowsing like a hen at the corner of Maple and Camp Meade Road. At dawn all is silent, except for the click every thirty seconds as the oblivious traffic light rotates through its cycle. The building's bell tower out of proportion, too large and squat and short to match. Other than that, there's nothing much to catch the eye. In a few hours heaven will strike earth like lightning on this spot. The worshipers in this little building will be swept into a divine worship that proceeds eternally, grand with seraphim and incense and God enthroned, ”high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple“ (Isaiah 6:1). The foundations of that temple shake with the voice of angels calling ”Holy" to each other, and we will be there, lifting fallible voices in the refrain, an outpost of eternity. If this is true, it is the most astonishing thing that will happen in our city today.
An excerpt from Facing East: A Pilgrim's Journey Into the Mysteries of OrthodoxyPrologue: In the Passenger Seat Saturday, December 21, 1991Vespers He was an Episcopal priest, but he was standing in an Orthodox church on this Saturday night and thinking about Truth. At the altar a gold-robed priest strode back and forth swinging incense, moving in and out the doors of the iconostasis according to rubrics that were as yet unfamiliar. Golden bells chimed against the censer, and the light was smoky and dim. Over to the left a small choir was singing in haunting harmony, voices twining in a capella simplicity. The Truth part was this: the ancient words of this Vesperal service had been chanted for more than a millennium. Lex orandi, lex credendi; what people pray shapes what they believe. This was a church that had never, could never, apostatize.
[Utne Reader, August 1998] One of the best pieces of spiritual advice I ever received was one I fortunately gained early, while still in college. It was that I should give up the project of assembling my own private faith out of the greatest hits of the ages. I encountered this idea while reading Ramakrishna, the nineteenth century Hindu mystic. He taught that it was important to respect the integrity of each great path, and said that, for example, when he wanted to explore Christianity he would take down his images of the Great Mother and substitute images of Jesus and Mary.