April 12, 2014
In Their Footsteps
Serge G. Mihaly, Jr
This year Friday night Lenten services brought back a number of memories to me for as a child and teenager my mother and father took great care to bring me to church. It was difficult not to attend church for on those quiet nights my grandfather needed an altar boy to serve. It was usually Billy and Sergie Bilcheck who would join my brothers and I as we dressed in our white altar boy cassocks and waited for the service to begin.
As we stood like soldiers at attention under the watchful eyes of Helen Rowland, a very unselfish and holy woman who supervised us behind the altar, we could see everyone who entered the church as they walked to the tetra pod, bless themselves, kiss the glass covered icon and find a seat in one the pews. As the church began to fill other parishioners sat quietly and still others placed wrinkled dollar bills in wrought iron candle stands on top of which flickered their newly lit candle.
Soon one of us would help my grandfather prepare the cadillo as we held it just high enough so he could place a spoonful of incense on a burning charcoal lit but a few seconds before. My Grandfather would then take the cadillo and walk through the church praying and incensing the icons and everyone. With each swing of his arms you could hear the gentle rattle of the cadillo chains as the pungent incense wrapped itself around and above our heads in a cloud of sweet mist. With each swing of the cadillo the people would bow their heads and bless themselves.
Looking back now, I was mesmerized by the older men and women of the church, those who attended these Friday services with their short cut hair and colorful babushkas. Few knew English and those that did, practiced it with a strong Slavic accent. Many of the men worked in local factories somehow related to the General Electric plant in town. Many shaped cold rolled steel with lathes and milling machines. There was quiet strength to these people, strength I have always admired. It was this strength, too, that brought them to our church tonight and to hundred’s of Orthodox Greek Catholic churches around the nation on this quiet Friday night. But why were we here? Why did we attend?
My parents brought me up to be proud of our heritage, both ethnically and spiritually. I have learned that there is a real and profound passion to being a Christian, a passion that goes beyond anything I have ever experienced at this or any other time of the year. Lent is the most moving and beautiful times of the year as I struggle to come to grips with my sinfulness and how far I have fallen short in this world. In the midst of my sinfulness just the thought of a good, just, loving and all-powerful God overwhelms me. How One so innocent and loving and perfect could have been betrayed and then crucified for our, my sins always moves me to tears and enough so that I cannot sing. There is no more poignant time of he year for me than when on each of these nights we turn out the lights and sing. As a child I attended many such services week after week, enough to have my grandfather’s voice beautifully echo within as he sang the Preterpe’ This is a good time of the year, too, as beautiful and cherished memories of deceased relatives and friends fill me with laughter and joy. How blessed I have been to have known them all.
Our faith is more than prayers and holidays. It is more than just sermons. It is a faith of all the senses as Father Peter and other priests have said many times. It is much like what we are called to give to the Good Lord, our total and undivided love. It is on these Friday nights that I have realized more than ever the nature of our faith. It is humble, quiet and irrepressibly strong, a strength that can never be denied or defeated. I find it hard to express the feeling I have when I think of our ultimate relationship to God, His gentle and loving nature, His all-powerful essence. For me to sit and think of my relationship to Him as a mortal and imperfect creature I am overcome with emotion. I, like many, have seen the miracles of the tearing icon and have my own personal experiences from which to draw my belief from. For me He is very real and will always be.
The trains still rush past our church on those Friday nights, as do the same cars using Broadbridge Avenue as a short cut to some unknown destination. I am older now, much older and church and family and God mean much more to me. I do not know if those older members of our church with their short cut hair or babushkas felt or thought the same way as I did or do now. What I do know is it is their unconquerable faith and strength that has guided me as an Orthodox Christian moving me to preserve our Orthodox Christian faith. It is in their footsteps of those that came before that I try to follow, footsteps of those who joyously and steadfastly sacrificed so much that we too might know the Lord Jesus Christ.