The following is the text of a toast I gave in honor of my parents’ reception into the Holy Orthodox Church on Sunday, May 12, Third Sunday of Pascha in honor of the Holy Myrrhbearers and American Mother’s Day. My father was received by Baptism and my mother by Chrismation at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church in East Syracuse, NY.
“Nobody knows the trouble I seen. Nobody knows but Jesus.”
These simple, yet profound lyrics from an old negro spiritual express the longing of many a Christian lost in the multitude of denominations and confessions of the Church in this country and in the world. This family alone has experienced not less than 15 in our collective lives. But when I first witnessed the Orthodox Church I could see a church where, “Every generation chanteth hymns of praise to Christ.” Everyone from the smallest infant to the oldest great grandmother, all gather together in one Church. Today this prophecy has been fulfilled in your eyes: Not in a church designed principally for the youth, not in a church designed principally for the elderly, but in the Church where family integrated worship has never gone out of style.
Mom and dad, you began this journey with me 26 years ago when I was received into the Orthodox Church by chrismation. What is it about this time in your life and this lovely community of faith that finally convinced you? I wish to share one of my most treasured memories which may partly answer this mystery.
When we were in Russia several years ago seated at trapeza (a sit-down dinner after Liturgy) with my wife and children, we were listening to my father-in-law who is here today as he told the story of his own coming to faith. You see he, like my father, is a builder. And when the church building revival that has been sweeping across Russia since the fall of communism in 1991 finally came to our family’s ancestral home in Ulan Ude, Eastern Siberia, the Church approached my father-in-law and asked for his assistance in rebuilding the Monastery of the Transfiguration on the shores of Lake Baikal. At that time, my future wife and brother-in-law had returned to communion in the church, but their father was still holding fast to his atheist communism. Then something happened as he agreed to help rebuild the monastery; he said in his toast at trapeza, “As I was renovating this ancient monastery, the monastery was renovating me.”
Then and there, I witnessed the path to salvation for my parents and thought, “As soon as my father draws up his first Orthodox Church, then he will become Orthodox.” As many of you know Saint John the Baptist Monastery finished the shell of its new Chapel in time for the Men’s Retreat this past Lent, and the plans for it were prepared by my father. You see the rest before you today.
Newly illumined Innocent and Elizabeth, I congratulate you today on what His Eminence Metropolitan Daniil would say is your personal Pentecost. Axios! Worthy! I am so happy we are finally in communion with one another and I wish you many, many years. Christ is risen!