Posted by: Shawn Ragan | October 27, 2008

A Baptism

Last week we were privileged to go to Salt Lake City for the baptism of the baby daughter of some friends of ours.  It was an incredible experience for us.  This was the third Orthodox baptism I had seen, two of babies and one of an adult.  It was the first baptism Tori had seen.

The baptism took place in Sts. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in Salt Lake.  This is an incredibly beautiful church.

Sts Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in Salt Lake City

Sts Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in Salt Lake City

When we arrived that Saturday morning at the church for the baptism, I was completely struck by the beauty of the church.  One of the things I have found in Orthodoxy is the beauty of the churches – and how this is tied in with the beauty of the Kingdom and the Heavenly Liturgy.  Most of the churches I have been in have been smaller mission churches – and they are beautiful.  The woodwork, the iconography, the lampadas, the candles, the altar – all of this is so different from the four white walls one finds in the typical Protestant church.  In that way alone, one’s first visit to an Orthodox Church can be a little overwhelming.

This was my first visit to a larger church, and I re-experienced the awe and magnificence of the first time I walked into an Orthodox church.

Inside Sts. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church, looking towards the iconastasis

Inside Sts. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church, looking towards the iconostasis

The Pantokrator on the ceiling of Sts. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church

The Pantokrator on the ceiling of Sts. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church

For the first fifteen minutes in the church, I think I just trembled and walked around saying “wow.”  Being in church is a foretaste of the Kingdom, and it is indescribable.  I have heard people talk about what they think heaven will be like – an author I like, John Eldredge, talks about how he thinks heaven will be the place we get to do all these things we want to do.  After all, he comments, who wants to think of heaven as the great big church service in the sky.  After all, many find church boring, and if the service is an hour and a half, they complain. (That was an incredibly common complaint when I pastored).

There are these views people hold to about what heaven will be like – I’ll be able to do this, and I can do that.  The big problem with that is that it is incredibly me-centered.  The Kingdom is about communion with God – Christ did not come so you can do X, Y, or Z – most of which people can do now in the fallen state, but so that we could enter into communion with God in the fullest and wholest sense.

An Orthodox service gives us a taste of this, and it will even more so when we enter the Church and can commune.  An Orthodox Church is eschatological in that sense, it gives us a foretaste of the coming Kingdom.  I mean no disrespect to my friends who are looking forward to mountain climbing and space exploration in the Kingdom, but that thought seems very shallow and self-focused.  I have had a taste, as small as it might be, of the future, and I yearn for the ongoing heavenly liturgy – I yearn to praise God night and day.  I hope someday they can taste and experience this mystical, but very real, worship of God found in His Church.

I find myself wanting to linger in Church, longing to stay.  We have some services that last for hours, and at the end we are saddened they are over already.  Earlier this year, I was able to participate in the all-night vigil on Holy Friday.  Two of my kids and I were in the Church, after already attending hours of services Holy Thursday and Holy Friday, from around seven-o’clock on Friday night to around one in the afternoon the next day.  During the all-night vigil, we take turns and come in shifts to chant the Psalms – all night.

Worship of God is not boring – it is amazing.  I am not talking about the emotional experiences so many are looking for in their services.  Nor am I talking about worship that is totally centered around the music I want, skits to entertain me, and a sermon that is between 20-35 minutes.  When we are only seeking worship that “fits” us, we become the center of it, and it is worship that can never spiritually satisfy.  So many church splits have come out of this – how do we worship – and in each of those, as well meaning as people are, the focus is often around “what I want, what I like.”

The worship I am talking about transcends us.  It is worship that has been around for thousands of years.  It is worship that mirrors the heavenly worship that is ongoing now, which we find in Biblical books such as Isaiah and Revelation.  It is a worship that is not dependent upon my likes or dislikes, but on the Truth of the Faith.  It is worship that not only spiritually impacts us, but leaves us wanting to come again and again into the House of the Lord, in anticipation of the future Kingdom.

I have gone the long way around this, but the beauty of the church, the iconography, the incense, the candles, all of it are part of this awesomeness of God.  My soul trembled when I walked into the Church, surrounded by these beautiful saints of God.

Fr. John, Fr. Mark, and Fr. Dcn. Justin during the baptism.

Fr. John, Fr. Mark, and Fr. Dcn. Justin during the baptism.

Fr. John blessing the baptismal waters.

Fr. John blessing the baptismal waters.

The baptism was a reflection of this beauty.  It was an incredibly moving experience and a wonderful time with friends.  As I mentioned, this was Tori’s first time to witness an Orthodox baptism, and she was also very moved by it.  It was just amazing to see this little baby girl be immersed in the water three times, to be baptized into the Household of God.  Just as amazing, and something that almost brought tears to my eyes was when she was given communion for the first time.  To see this little baby girl take communion was beyond words – and it reminded me of my longing for my family and I to be able to receive Holy Communion.  All in God’s time, I guess.

So much of this was beyond words, but so much of our journey thus far has been just that.  As I have said, I can’t even begin to describe the depth and beauty and greatness of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church.

Some reading this may wonder about infant baptism – I know the church I pastored did not believe in infant baptism.  I once held that view myself, but as I have studied church history and the Holy Scriptures, I have found that it is in fact correct and proper.  In fact, once I studied it out a little, and saw all of the compelling reasons for it, I regret that I was not in such a place that my children could have been baptized when they were infants.  Now I just long for the day when we well be received into the Church and they will be baptized.  What an amazing day that will be!

I started this out on the baptism, but it seems I may have spent more time on other things.  Forgive me.  It is all related, though.  For those who do not know what it is I am talking about, I hope you will “come and see.”

Tori and I in front of the iconostasis.

Tori and I in front of the iconostasis.

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