In the Orthodox Church, we have a tradition of keeping all-night vigil over the tomb of Christ (so to speak) in the church, from Good Friday until the Paschal liturgy late Saturday night. There is always someone standing in church reading the Psalms aloud. For four hours last night, that someone was me. I took the photo above standing at the reading stand, just me alone in the darkened church. But I wasn’t alone, of course.
Last night I drove into the yard outside our little country church, and parked under the oak tree. It was chilly, and I had a scarf wrapped tightly around my neck, and carried a Thermos of warm tea. I saw inside the window the face of my church brother, Casey, illuminated by the reading light; he was taking his turn at the vigil; I was there to relieve him at 1 a.m. It was to be a long, hard night, especially with me still down with mono, but I knew it would be an upbuilding kind of hard. As I opened the door to the church, my heart swelled with gratitude for our little parish. There are so few of us, and we all work so hard, and sacrifice so much for the mission. But God has blessed us with a good priest and matushka (priest’s wife), God has blessed us with a humble but beautiful temple, God has blessed us with friends and supporter from far away who have given us things we need, God has blessed us in each other, in this little flock he is knitting together, week by week. Mostly God has blessed us with His presence.
It was good to be alone in the stillness and cool of the temple last night, with nothing but
the sound of my own voice reading the Psalms. I tried to stay focused on them, but occasionally my mind would wander. I offered up some of them for a friend who is mourning his recently dead son, for several friends who are suffering from cancer, and for others in need. Lamentations are part of our faith too; there is no Pascha without Good Friday.
I thought as well what a blessed and spiritually intense Holy Week I’ve had, deep in fruitful prayer, and how the man who opened the door in my heart to make me receptive to the Holy Spirit this week was my Great Uncle Jimmy, at his funeral two days before Orthodox Palm Sunday. He was a Southern Baptist, and, I believe, a saint. I’ve written about him a few times in this past week, but he’s been on my mind all week. I didn’t know him, though I’d met him a few times as a young child. But I heard those who did know him testify at his funeral to his abiding love and fidelity, and it occasioned a small epiphany in me. I’m still not sure what happened; I’ve been thinking about it all week, and maybe “thinking” is the wrong way to approach it. I saw something — I witnessed something — and things haven’t been quite the same with me since. (If you look at this clip of from The Passion Of The Christ, at the four-minute mark, what happened to the centurion is a much stronger version of what happened to me, I think.) I don’t want to overanalyze this, but I came back home in a different frame of mind, and have been in church a lot more this week than I might have otherwise been, and have been much more open to prayer, and praying for others, than I would otherwise have been.
One Lord, one faith, one baptism — and one body, underneath it all. We hand it on to each other, like Uncle Jimmy handed it on to me, like Casey handed the Psalter to me last night, and I handed it back to him in the next hour, and he handed it to me in the hour after that, and I prayed on through till sunrise.
I am so grateful for our little church. So grateful. We are all so tired from this week’s services, but we push on, because it’s a good kind of tired. Tonight is Pascha, the feast of the Resurrection. I did not expect this, I did not see this coming, I could not have predicted this, but out of all the sorrow and pain of my sister’s death, there is new life abounding. She said something like this might happen, if we had faith.