November 21, 2012

“She Brings With Her the Grace of the Holy Spirit”

As Orthodox Christians we place great emphasis on the temple as the place of worship. We put liturgical life at the top of our priorities, lavish attention on our church buildings and devote much care to icons, vestments and all the hardware and software of liturgy. This is meet and right. Think of the hundreds of pages in the Bible, especially the Old Testament, consecrated to the ordering of liturgical life.

17th AAC
All American Council, Holy Trinity Church, Parma, Ohio

The Hebrews reading today harkens back to that as it speaks of the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat (as I read this I think of that wonderful photo by Father Gregory Safchuk, taken from the choir loft at the All-American Council at Holy Trinity Church in Parma, with the embrace of Christ overshadowing the congregation.) We tend to think of Saint Paul as uninterested in such things, but read 1 Corinthians—the most detailed description of early church life that we have—and there too, most of the letter is concerned with how worship is conducted. And for Saint Paul and the Old Testament, at the heart of worship is the awareness of God’s glory. As we heard in all three readings at vespers last night, “The glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.”

What we celebrate in this feast is a reversal. The Temple is a place of God’s grace and glory, yes, but here we have a human being, a young girl, who is herself filled with that grace, which is completed and fulfilled as she steps into the Temple. “She brings with her the grace of the Holy Spirit,” as we sing today.

What a church we would be if each of us followed her and did the same. 

Mark Stokoe on the All-American Council

After the Divine Liturgy this morning in Saint Sergius Chapel at the Chancery the staff and parishioners will have a festal breakfast and then take the rest of the day off to go home and prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday. How many blessings we as a church have received over the years, how many bishops, clergy, faithful men and women, monks and nuns have chosen not to give in to cynicism or give up, but to go on trusting in the Lord.

Early this morning I received an interview of Mark Stokoe, done by journalist Svetlana Vais for, a leading (and often controversial) Russian website on religious matters. Svetlana is from Moscow but lives in Long Island and reports regularly on the US, especially church life. She also happens to be a parishioner at Saint Sergius Chapel and attended the AAC as an observer. I don’t always agree with her or with Mark’s observations or assessments, but this interview gives an insightful view to Russian readers of where we’ve been, where we are now and what the hope for the future might be with our new metropolitan.

Svetlana Vais’ interview with Mark Stokoe can be found in English at