How did I fall in love with the community?

I have never felt this way in any church I attended before becoming Orthodox. The bond with my Orthodox brothers and sisters humbles me. Caring is so painful.

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I live in a military city. We have four military bases around us and the Air Force Academy. People come and go. My own father is retired Navy. People say that our city is not very friendly. Perhaps it is an attempt at self-preservation? If you do not become attached to people you barely notice it when they, or you, leave.

When I started attending my parish church, I found out that monastics do not participate in community events. They do not join in on; weddings, funerals, the agape meal, etc. When the nuns of the monastery attached to our church visit and attend Liturgy, they go home right after. “How wonderful for some one like me who is introverted!’, I thought ‘ built in, acceptable isolation.” Even though I am not a monastic I adopted this point of view.

I would attend services and say, ‘hello’ to people, chat a bit, coo at the babies, smile, etc. but I did not engage too much with other people. I was still healing from the deep wounds inflicted by my previous church community. I felt that I could not, get attached again to people. But something odd was happening. I was becoming attached anyway despite my best efforts.

I went to church and would look for certain faces. There were those people who never missed a service. Sadly, I am not one of those people. Example; new Goal for 2020, attend church more. Reality; I missed the last two Liturgies and vespers.

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However, these people, these rocks of the church who would never call themselves rocks of the church, they were a welcomed, and comforting, sight to me. No matter what, these faithful were always there with smiles, praying quietly. This man whom I called ‘brother’ in my heart but whom I had barely spoken to in the last several years is one of those people.

In regards to my parish, we have never had any lengthy conversations. No deep, theological discussions over coffee about what we read from our bibles. We do not attend bible studies together, we did not discuss our five-point ministries together… we just are. We all are on the same boat of Orthodoxy, facing east and praying together. We are a large, extended family. (I do attend the weekly ladies’ group (admittedly not every week) but not really connecting with the women beyond that class.) Connected in a distant kind of way.

I writing all of this because I read an email this morning sent by our parish priest that one of those rocks, our brother-in-Christ, a fellow traveler facing east, has moved. He, and a few other men of our church, had been living an ascetic life together here in town. They all rented a house together, were not married, did not date, etc. A monastic kind of life without being an, ‘official’ monastery.

Over the summer, he had visited a monastery for several weeks, helping the abbot. He came back with a big, fluffy beard and his hair grown out more. ‘Uh-oh,’ I thought.

This man was almost always at the church. When I say almost always I don’t just mean he was at every service although he was at every service. He made the prosphora, he mowed the grass, he cleaned up the kitchen after the agape meals, etc. He has a truck and it was a common sight to drive past the church and see his truck backed up to the mess hall, with its back end opened and him sitting in a canvas camping chair whittling walking/hiking staffs to sell in the bookstore.

I asked him once, ‘Why are you always here?’. His reply was priceless; “My father died while mowing his church’s lawn. I figure if you’re going to die, dying on church property is the best place to do it. Being here as much as possible increases my chances of dying here at church.”  ???hello??!

Who thinks like that?! Saints… saints think like that. He was a fixture at the church and now he is gone.

My dear brothers-at-church, do you not know what your presence does for the community? Do you not know what it does in the hearts and minds of the young men who see you faithfully represent quiet, strong, prayerful manhood? Do you not know what comfort it brings to your sisters to see you praying? A warrior on the wall.

You are part of this big, extended family and now you’re gone.

Lord have mercy. You will be missed. My God bless you and keep, Brother. I know you are praying for all of us.

4 Comments

  1. Melissa, thank you for sharing this in depth perception and experience of belonging to your Orthodox Church Community and these sensitivities you have regarding your interaction with the other parishioners! I find it both interesting and enlightening as an obvious indication of your genuine sincerity as well as commitment to Christ Jesus’s will for you. I think this is very special in my eyes how you find these basic quiet reserved yet very compassionate interactions between you and the other faithful with your heart felt sensitivity to be highly commendable and indeed worthy of high praise; not even saying that such coming from me means anything but see through my heart that God is very pleased with you without any doubt and in my honest sincere opinion that is obviously what really matters here. I like that you represent the quiet and gentleness of being faithful and how you saying, “How wonderful for some one like me who is introverted!’, I thought ‘ built in, acceptable isolation,” is a beautiful thing to be proud of because I can plainly see you are not like so many people who are game players, yes even doing that with regard to church like everything else in their lives, more concerned with or thinking about impressing and proving something all of the time; which quite honestly is something quite rare to see in people these days in the world of meme! You are the salt of the earth and don’t you forget it! I love your humility and soft quiet approach and outlook to such important matters as faith, living for Christ Jesus and just simple everyday life.
    God Bless You. I see you are going strong with the faithful which makes you no introvert to God, but a champion of grace, which is what matters anyway! Quite frankly, I’m blessed to have you as a connection and hopefully in fellowship for Christ for a long time.
    This article of yours has been very uplifting to me and instills so much hope in me that there are some very genuine beautiful hearts in this world in spite of all the clamor and foolishness. This was a breath of fresh air! Amen.
    Brother in Christ Jesus,
    Lawrence

    Liked by 1 person

    1. MelissaBishop says:

      You are too kind, Br. Lawrence. Thank you for stopping by.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome Melissa! Honestly I only wanted to say what I see in your words and actions, all of which are exemplary, first by your devout faith and secondly by your display of genuine gentle humanity; both of which are too often sorely lacking in today’s frenzied world of instant gratification and selfishness. I have much to learn from you.
        Again, you are to me a shining example of what is truly pleasing in God’s eyes. Amen.
        Have a blessed day!
        Lawrence

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Melissa, thank you for sharing this in depth perception and experience of belonging to your Orthodox Church Community and these sensitivities you have regarding your interaction with the other parishioners! I find it both interesting and enlightening as an obvious indication of your genuine sincerity as well as commitment to Christ Jesus’s will for you. I think this is very special in my eyes how you find these basic quiet reserved yet very compassionate interactions between you and the other faithful with your heart felt sensitivity to be highly commendable and indeed worthy of high praise; not even saying that such coming from me means anything but see through my heart that God is very pleased with you without any doubt and in my honest sincere opinion that is obviously what really matters here. I like that you represent the quiet and gentleness of being faithful and how you saying, “How wonderful for some one like me who is introverted!’, I thought ‘ built in, acceptable isolation,” is a beautiful thing to be proud of because I can plainly see you are not like so many people who are game players, yes even doing that with regard to church like everything else in their lives, more concerned with or thinking about impressing and proving something all of the time; which quite honestly is something quite rare to see in people these days in the world of meme! You are the salt of the earth and don’t you forget it! I love your humility and soft quiet approach and outlook to such important matters as faith, living for Christ Jesus and just simple everyday life.
    God Bless You and I know you are going strong which makes you no introvert to God but a champion of grace, which is what matters anyway! Quite frankly, I’m blessed to have you as a connection and hopefully in fellowship for Christ for a long time.
    This article of yours has been very uplifting to me and instills so much hope in me that there are some very genuine beautiful hearts in this world in spite of all the clamor and foolishness. This was a breath of fresh air! Amen.
    Brother in Christ Jesus,
    Lawrence

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