Tuesday, November 6, 2012

O Gracious Light / Φώς Ιλαρόν

Back in 1975, on November 6, working in an ancient furniture factory in Albany, Oregon, I gave my life to the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘All that I am, and all that I have, Lord, I give back to You. Take, and give back to me only what You want me to be and to have. I am Yours. Save me.’ A simple confession of faith in a dark corner of an old wood shop, pausing from my work at a table saw, having sent my one assistant away to empty the wood box when I sensed the Lord was approaching. After that moment of meeting, nothing looked the same to me ever again, nothing was the same. ‘Behold, I make all things new. Yes, Jesus speaks, Jesus is, the Truth.

The very next day I wrote an Old Catholic bishop with whom I was corresponding—this is before the computer age, we actually wrote letters back then—to receive my profession of faith, and asked him for his instructions. I was already baptised, but never confirmed, so when he came to Portland to minister to his miniscule congregation here, he would confirm me and my wife, who was also baptised in the United Church of Canada, and then baptise our, by then two year old, first-born son. Why an Old Catholic bishop? Well, my last church affiliation had been Polish National Catholic, an Old Catholic denomination, popeless.

After our family was bodily joined to the Church by this bishop's sacramental hands on March 21, 1976 in a small house church on Southeast Market Street in old Portland, Oregon, he advised us—since we didn't live there, but in Corvallis, a small town about 2 hours south—to worship as ‘guests’ at the Episcopal Church in that town. That was Good Samaritan, my first church community as an intentional, adult Christian. I learned a lot there, about the Church, about Christ. The clergy were indulgent but supportive. Deaconess Noel had still not been talked into becoming first a ‘deacon’ (non sexist language) and then a ‘priest.’ Father Neville who introduced himself to me at our first meeting as, ‘Father Neville. If you can remember the devil, you can remember Neville,’ was a typical broad church country vicar, like in the story books. It was a ‘nice’ beginning for a life in Christ that would later become quite stormy.

We moved to Portland after perhaps only a year in Corvallis, and joined first St Andrew's church, and then later migrated to St Mark's, a high church Episcopal parish in the inner city. That is where the rest of our sons were baptised as infants, and where I was a lay reader in charge of the Friday evening weekly service. I chanted evensong, and then with a partner or two, we went off into the streets and a coffeehouse nearby to do a kind of street ministry, mostly witnessing, but some helping of the needy. St Mark's, even now, I still consider my ‘family church,’ although we were chrismated into Holy Orthodoxy about twenty-four years ago, and are now Greek Orthodox.

This morning I found a webpage that had a number of excellent large photographs of the interior of Saint Mark's church, which I have posted below. It was, and still is, a very beautiful church. The large painting of the Ascension of Christ on the wall above the high altar was painted by a priest iconographer who was a Native American, and who also painted the large icon of Christ and the Saints which hangs in our first church in Portland, Saint Andrew's.
(Fr David Lounsbury is also in the photo.)

When I was the reader for the Friday vespers, we had quite an eclectic and unique congregation of many talents. One of them was a very excellent young poet, whose name was Tom Nash, which is also the name of a famous poet, a relative of William Shakespeare. He wrote a poem about our evening prayer times together, which has probably never been published anywhere before, and it is one of my treasured literary keepsakes.

The title of the poem, Phos Hilaron, is the name of the ancient hymn that we used to chant in the service. The image of the musical notation is not the melody we used, but it is the same style, a square note kind of music. The poem is a beautiful, simple reminiscence of those candlelit evenings, with evening sun streaming through heavily glazed windows into the romanesque church, into the Mary Chapel, where we held our service. (The photo at the head of this post is of the Mary Chapel.) The poem captures for me, and I hope for you, the feeling of that peaceful gathering we shared together in this sacred space nearly thirty years ago. In this poem, ‘Norman’ is the name of the reader who chanted the service. That's Romanós in his younger days.

Phos Hilaron
by Thomas Nash

In the Lady Chapel's Holy and bright
emblem of the evening light
that even now plays with and braids
the fountain's brightness while dark shades
gather under the walls of the park outside
on this eighth day of Eastertide

Norman, with deep and noble tone
voices the Phos Hilaron.
With trembling note we follow his lead
and through all the prayers gently plead
like mice meekly following mother,
piping together, sister and brother.

Now, for the rest of the photos of Saint Mark's Parish…
(Click them to zoom, click again for very large.)

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