Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"O You Through Whom Creation is Renewed"

Litija prayers during Great Vespers
"O You Through Whom Creation is Renewed," a line from the Akathist service to the Mother of God, was the theme for the annual pilgrimage at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch (aka across the street!), August 14-15.  We hope that our presence here is helping in some way, along with the hard work Friends of the Shrines and other volunteers, to renew the life at the shrine.  But our focus during this pilgrimage weekend was how the Mother of God renews creation through her openness to God and the gift of her Son to the world.

Burial Shroud surrounded by blessed flowers
Because the Feast of the Dormition (falling asleep) of the Mother of God fell this year on Sunday of the pilgrimage, we enjoyed the unique treat of celebrating the burial service of the Mother of God on Saturday night.  This beautiful service, celebrated in some Eastern traditions, is made up of Great Vespers (evening prayer) and Matins (morning prayer) for the feast, which when celebrated together on the eve of a feast are called the "All Night Vigil."  The service also includes a burial procession with the shroud of the Mother of God.  Participants can see how this service closely imitates the burial procession that we participate in on Good Friday of Holy Week, including the veneration of the shroud at the conclusion of the service.  For Sr. Celeste and me, our favorite part is the chanting of the Song of Songs during the procession!!!  The tears were rolling down my cheeks as we walked slowly in the dark, right behind the shroud, as the cantors chanted the words that Sr. Celeste and I pray every evening at the end of compline (night prayer) before we go to bed.  The Church was singing to us!  It was one of those moments when the stress and difficulties melt away...

Pausing for prayer before Fr. Rich's talk
"Frozen T-shirt" icebreaker
Another great blessing of the pilgrimage was the great group of teens who came to camp out.  Sr. Celeste and I helped to organize the teen campout, along with several young adult chaperones.  The teens and young adults brought awesome joy and vibrancy to the prayer services and other activities of the pilgrimage.  We hope that their presence here will continue to renew the pilgrimage and the shrine as a place of life and prayer, as they return with their friends, families and enthusiasm.  The teens immersed themselves in all of the prayer services, enjoyed sports and games out in the field, cooked on the campfire and participated in the procession for the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy on Sunday with Bishop John.  They also trekked across the street to our monastery for Third Hour on Sunday morning and a tour of the monastery.  We enjoyed showing them and other pilgrims the progress we have made over the past year, teaching them a little bit about our life and showing our video.

Sr. Celeste's chicken paprikas was a hit again this year, and sold out quickly!

The closing Divine Liturgy with Bishop John on Sunday was beautiful, and the gift of three new subdeacons, ordained during the Liturgy, was given to our Church.  Please pray for subdeacons (and our good friends) Greg Loya, Michael Melnick and Robert Cripps as they continue their journey to the diaconate.

I learned during the pilgrimage, as God patiently teaches me over and over again, that I will not be in control, no matter how well I plan out my portion of an event.  It is He alone who knows how to bring life, breathing His Holy Spirit into the very midst of our actions and conversations. But we can participate in His life-giving action--in the renewal of creation--by following the example of the Mother of God, for, "Today she places her all-pure soul into the hands of her Son.  With her, the universe is filled with joy, and the grace of salvation is given to us" (A hymn at the Litija).

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