Forgiveness Vespers

[NPR, “All Things Considered,” March 2, 1998] On the first night of Lent, as Vespers comes to an end, my husband turns from the altar. He asks everyone to form a circle around the interior of the church, and when we're in place, the person next to him--in this case, our son David--steps over to face his dad. My husband crosses himself, bows to David, then says, “Forgive me, my brother, for any way I have sinned against you. ” David says, “I forgive you,” and they embrace. Then it's David' s turn to bow to his dad and ask the same question, and receive the same forgiveness and embrace.

Holy Week

[NPR, “All Things Considered,” April 14, 1998] Holy Week is 501 pages long. My husband's Greek-English prayerbook begins with Palm Sunday evening, but the week actually starts the day before, Lazarus Saturday, when we commemorate the raising of Jesus's friend as a foreshadowing of Pascha. Some churches anticipate Lazarus Saturday with a service Friday evening. That's the Orthodox way: can we add a few more icing roses to the top of this cake?

Horse Trough Baptism

[NPR, “All Things Considered,” June 8, 1998] In this ranch house in an older suburb, the carpet in the dining room is vintage orange shag. But no dining table stands on it tonight; we moved out the table and moved in a giant Rubbermaid horse trough--the hundred-gallon size. The baptismal service is in full swing. As incense rises and the choir sings, my husband, the priest, floats blessed oil on top of the warm water. Then it' s time for Mitchell to step in. Some churches sprinkle for baptism, or pour water from a silver cup. But the Eastern Orthodox Church prefers full immersion, dunking the entire person underwater.

The Weeping Icon and Eugene

[Religion News Service, October 31, 1995] All day long Eugene Nahum prays in a church on the outskirts of Chicago. At night, he sleeps in the basement below the church offices. ”This is my life now,“ he says. ”I have no other life." Both the man and the church are remarkable. Before moving here permanently, Eugene made several day-trips from his home in Ohio to this church in the grimy suburb of Cicero, Ill., because it is the site of an unusual phenomenon: a weeping icon.

Truth and Beauty

[NPR, “All Things Considered,” June 24, 1998] He was an Episcopal priest, but he was standing in an Eastern 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 millenium. Lex orandi, lex credendi; what people pray shapes what they believe. This was a church that had never, could never, apostatize. She was his wife, and she was standing next to him thinking about her feet. They hurt.

Orthodoxy and the “Kissing Bug”

[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:

Crones and Starlets

[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.

Lenten Sacrifice

[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.

Beseiged in Albania

[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."