Cheryl Anne Tuggle
In such a busy world evening services can be sparsely attended in many Orthodox churches—a regrettable fact, since these services are especially beautiful and edifying.
On the eve of one feast years ago, the only worshipers at vigil other than Fr. Moses, our priest, were the three members of his own family. After the service his wife Magdalena remarked on how special it had been to be in church that evening and that it was a shame there was no one from the parish who had been able to attend. “They did though,” said her daughter, Dorothy, who was nine or ten at the time. She pointed to the icons covering the walls, “You could even say there was a crowd.”
She was right, of course, children usually are. Even if our visible number is only three we do not worship alone, surrounded as we are by so “great a cloud of witnesses.” Or as Dorothy put it, a crowd of them.
This year on the Sunday of All Saints, at the reading of the epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews it was that word witnesses which stood out to me, as if the reader had spoken it louder than the rest.
A witness is someone who has seen an event happen and can testify that it took place. For a wedding to be considered legal, there must be at least two people besides the bride and groom who are willing to be present and swear they saw it happen. Similarly, anyone called to give testimony as witness at a trial must swear that they actually saw with their own eyes the event in question. A mountain climber attempting an important climb for the first time will be accompanied by a an entire crew of guides and other climbers with experience on that peak. Not only are these people there to coach or lend aid, but also to witness the climb.
This is what the saints do for us. Having already completed their journey, they accompany us on ours, lending experience and bearing witness. And someday, when they’re called to testify on our behalf, they’ll say they were there all right. They were there when we started out fresh and strong. There when we grew tired and lost our footing. There when night fell and we struggled to see our way in the dark. There on the ledge above us, offering a hand. There when we took it and pressed on.