Posted by: Shawn Ragan | February 4, 2009

Meeting His Grace

My wife wanted to leave.  About halfway through the service she was done.  I, of course, had been excited all week about the episcopal visit of our Bishop, Sayidna Joseph.  But halfway through the service Tori was ready to go.

This all happened last Spring (2008).  As I have shared our journey throughout this blog, I have gone back and forth – talking about many of our first experiences and what they were like, and what made differences to us in our family’s journey to Christ’s Holy Church.  This was the first time we met His Grace, Sayidna JOSEPH.

At the time, Tori was coming to some services here and there, at my request.  I was still pastoring at the Protestant church I was at.  While Tori was more than ready to be done there, she still had not yet come to Orthodoxy.  I had asked her to come with me to meet Bishop JOSEPH, and she had agreed, but she was not quite ready for what she found.

First, one has to say that there is pomp and circumstance in Orthodoxy.  Of course, one sees this in Holy Scipture…just a cursory reading of the heavenly liturgy in the book of Revelations shows plenty.  It is funny, very early in this journey, around the time that Tori realized I was moving down this road, she asked if she was still going to be able to have a big beautiful wedding for Elisabeth (worried that, I dunno, there would be some wierd, bland service).  I called our good friend Matthew, a convert to Orthodoxy from Roman Catholicism, and asked him if Orthodox have big beautiful weddings (we hadn’t seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” yet).  His reply, “We’re Orthodox, we do everything with pomp and circumstance” (my paraphrase).

So of course, receiving his Grace was a big deal…as it should be.  I told Tori that I wanted to meet him, and I had wanted to bring the camera in so we could get a picture.  She was opposed to me bringing the camera in.  “He was not a movie star,” she said.

His Grace, Sayidna JOSEPH

His Grace, Sayidna JOSEPH

About halfway through the service, it was a Vespers, while His Grace stood on a rug, with his staff in his hand, and did some part of the service, Tori commented: “He has his own rug!”  She was ready to go.  It all seemed too much for her.  She curtly informed me that she was not going up to meet him – I could if I wanted to but she was not.  Well, it did not end there.

Fr. Mark, our parish priest and a man with a giant heart, came up afterwards and said “Shawn, Tori, come meet His Grace.”  And Fr. Mark says it in such a loving and humble way that one cannot say no…at least Tori could not say no.  She submitted and went up with me and our kids to meet Sayidna JOSPEH.

Fr. Mark introduced me “as close as you can get to being a catechumen without actually being one” and I made the bow and asked for his blessing.  I was really looking forward to having just a few minutes with him.  Then he spoke, and with a depth of love and humility in his eyes he talked…to Tori.  He spoke for about five minutes to Tori, and a little to Elisabeth.  I stood to the side and listened.  He did not say anything pushy, he just talked about taking one’s time in the journey to Christ’s Church and a few other things.  I couldn’t even quote something he said.

But that wasn’t it.  It was the depth of love in the man…the reality of Christ in him…the compassion and humility in his eyes while he spoke.  It was this love and grace that flowed out of him, and the gentle humility while he shared.  There is a character to every priest that we have met so far, some of this same quality, this same love and humility…Tori always comments about seeing something in their eyes…she is far wiser than I am.

She left that meeting loving our Bishop.  Those few minutes touched her in a profound way and were an intrical part towards her steps to the Holy Faith.  The little things that she let bother her during the service dissolved in the Truth of the life and this Faith.  In recounting this story to someone later, I made the comment about Tori having been uncomfortable with the rug and the staff, and the comment was made “Well that doesn’t sound very humble.”  To which Tori stood up in defense and said “Bishop Joseph is very humble.”  At the time, when she was still unsure if she was going to follow us, I was totally shocked to hear her stand up in defense of the Faith.

You know, it is interesting.  We live in such a technical and information based world, that when people approach the Faith they think they can do so via the internet.  I was guilty of this a little, focusing more on the books than on the life.  There are several people that I have visited with about Orthodoxy, and many only want information…what is this doctrine or what is that.  They want to know about it, but it ends there.  One cannot know Orthodoxy from the internet, or from reading a book, or from reading a blog.  There are some great books out there, but none of them hold a candle to meeting the Church herself.

Without actually coming to the Church, seeing the life, the services, worship focused on God not man, the sacramental way we live, the love and compassion in the eyes of her priests, the true koinonia (with all of its struggles) that is there, Christ Himself present with the Holy Angels and the Saints…words can never describe it, without meeting the Church and getting to know her a little, one does know her…how can they.  I have some great books on Theodore Roosevelt, but I don’t know the man.

I find it interesting how people just want information, and that is it.  From there they make their judgments.  I had someone tell me once that they knew the Orthodox Church was not the Church of the Apostles…they had never set foot in the door, had never seen a service, didn’t know anything more about the Faith than the drop I had told them about.  What was there basis for this?  Who knows.

Tori could probably tell you very little “information.”  My friend Matthew and I like to talk theology, and we speak of kataphatic and apophatic, and both of our wives hate it…if I recall, Matthew’s wife Natalia wanted to blow our words up.  What I have learned, though, and something that never would have made sense to me when I was a Protestant, is that my wife is way more spiritual than I am.  What draws her to Orthodoxy is the simple Truth of it, despite the struggle that Truth brings with it.  That was not gained or learned in books…it was found in the life of the Church, in experiences, too many to count, like this experience where we were able to spend just a few minutes with His Grace, Sayidna JOSEPH.


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