I am now officially a member of the Orthodox Church! Here are a few of the photos taken by Jim, the parish webmaster. In the first picture, I stand with my fellow catechumen and his sponsor at the back of the church. It looks like our eyes are closed, but we're looking down at the service books in our hands. Our sponsors are holding our candles.
In the second picture we have moved to the front of the church. We made our confessions earlier in the week, but absolution was withheld until now. Here, Fr. Gregory absolves me of my sins.
Next came the actual Chrismation (anointing), followed by the Ablution (washing) and Tonsure (haircut). Finally, my sponsor placed my cross around my neck. In this next picture, with the Chrismation rite completed, Fr. Gregory presents the newly illumined Simeon and Joseph as the congregation sings, "God Grant You Many Years."
On the Byzantine calendar, this was the Feast of Saints Sergius and Bacchus. (Do you see the resemblance?)
On the Western calendar, it was the Feast of Our Lady of Victories, which commemorates the victory of the Catholic alliance over the Turks on this date in 1571 at Lepanto. The victory was credited to the intercession of the Virgin Mary after the Pope ordered everyone in Rome to pray the Rosary to implore her prayers.
In his homily, however, Fr. Gregory did not mention Sergius and Bacchus or the Mother of God. Instead, he spoke about our patron saints, Simeon the God-receiver and Joseph of Arimathea. They are like bookends of the Gospel, one appearing at the beginning of Christ's life (Luke 2:25-35) and the other at the end (Luke 23:50-53).
In accordance with custom, the newly illumined were the first to receive Communion. We will continue to hold our candles at Liturgy and be first in line for Communion for a period of 40 days. Here, my sponsor looks on as I receive for the first time.
In recent weeks many of my friends have recounted how many years I have been on this road. I attended my first Byzantine service 16 years ago, and I have been visiting Holy Cross semi-regularly for more than 8 years. Some of my Orthodox friends have been waiting a long time for this day, though I think we all knew it would come eventually. But I kept two of my friends waiting too long. I attended their chrismations, but they reposed too soon to see mine. I lit a candle for Geoffrey and Roxane, and it burned all morning by the Crucifixion icon, the customary location in the church for commemoration of the departed. I would like to think they were both present in spirit to witness the completion of this journey on which they each accompanied me for many miles.