Saturday, April 11, 2009

Last Night I Went To A Funeral

I started attending the Byzantine Divine Liturgy in 2008 after the Easter season.  I've been a Catholic my entire life, but recently had a reversion back to the faith after a long period of time away from the Church.  A long search to find a Catholic Church that looked like the church I left proved to be very difficult, almost impossible.  I started researching Orthodox Christianity and came across a Byzantine Catholic Church in Tucson, Arizona.  

The Catholic Church is made up of 6 distinctive Rites; Alexandrian, Antiochean, Armenian, Byzantine, Chaldean and Roman.  These 6 Rites are further subdivided along ethnic lines to make up over 20 rites in the Church.  All share a common faith, but each has a distinctive liturgy and spirituality.  I am a member of St. Melany's Byzantine Catholic Church, part of the Byzantine Rite of the Ruthenian jurisdiction.  The Byzantine Rite shares the same Liturgy and spirituality as the Orthodox Churches, yet remains in communion with the Bishop of Rome.  

On Good Friday, Theresa & I attended the Vespers of Great and Holy Friday service.  I can not describe how powerful the Liturgy was and the impact it had on those in attendance.  The Liturgy of The Word took readings from the Passion Gospels, ending with the Gosepl of John's account of Joseph of Arimathea taking Jesus from the cross.  At the end of the Liturgy, the body of Christ was  wrapped in a shroud (epitaphios)and processed from the sanctuary to a side chapel where it was placed on a low table which represents the tomb of Christ.  The chapel was decorated with flowers, candles, icons and the crown of thorns.  The epitaphios itself represents the body of Jesus wrapped in a burial shroud and is a roughly full-size icon of the body of Christ.  When everyone had processed to the chapel, the entire room kneeled and prayed the Canon of the Crucifixion and the Lamentation of the Most Holy Theotokos.  Afterwards, everyone came forward to venerate the Icon and left the chapel.  As a tradition, complete silence is observed from that point forward.

A vigil was maintained in the Chapel until midnight.  Everyone was invited to spend some time in prayer, reflecting on the passion and crucifixion of Jesus.  It was impossible to miss the emotion that came out as people reflected on the death of Jesus.  Several people cried, most prayed or read scripture and all maintained the solemn silence.  After an hour, we left the vigil to drive home.  The drive home was quiet and I spent most of the drive thinking about what Jesus did for us when he died on the cross.  This was my 38th Good Friday, but it was my first one where I felt like a close family member had died.  

Glory to Jesus Christ +
Glory to Him forever +


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