Donna and her husband John lived in southwest Missouri for many years and are a part of the “Unexpected Joy” family. They now reside in Colorado.
by Donna Mills
I remember the gladness of heart I felt each time we crossed the tracks and rounded the corner of the country road that led to our church, the peace that quieted my mind, the expectation of entering into the deep heart. A greater love that any friend or family could inspire awaited in the stillness of preparatory prayers, the lighting of candles for intercession, the movement of the Priest, wafting the mysterious fragrance of incense, punctuated by the clanking of the censor’s chains. We are all drawn into the ancient faith with the invisible presence of angels and saints, witnessed by the gaze from their icons, lifting our minds, guiding, offering their prayers for us.
As more gather, first acknowledging the presence of Christ through venerating the icons, then one another with unspoken but loving greetings, my spirit rises with gratitude for the tangible love of God through His people. Warm rays of light stream in through the colored glass, embellishing the occasion as if laden with jewels from above. The last confessor wipes away a cleansing tears, and Fr. Moses enters the altar, laden with burdens to lift upwards. When he opens the doors of the iconostasis, encompassing the Holy of Holies, and asks forgiveness, the awaiting congregation responds, “May God forgive us all.” In such a humbled state, we begin our worship as one.
Time ceases its clamor as the songs of ancient faith are sung in sweet harmony, drawing down the Grace of the Holy Spirit, experienced by each one in an individual way and yet we are bound together through its flow. The swelling of my heart often brought tears – for what reason? The beauty? The love that cannot be contained? Sometimes from a remembrance of a harm done, a continual shortcoming that keeps me from accepting the fullness. The longing that has no definition ignites a flame that burns away the significance of my own unworthiness, and there in its place is unexpected joy.
Sometimes the Grace became tangible – when, more than once, the fragrance of roses greeted me as a shower in the narthex before the entrance into the chapel. Where were they? I looked around – in the small bookstore, the stand in the corner, the kitchen. There were no roses. There was only the Mother of God smiling sweetly through the somber lips of her icon, inviting me to join the others already in prayer. Others experienced this around other icons, as well.
I remember … when the coyote howled in the distance as Fr. Moses was lifting the crown of thorns and taking down the icon of Christ from the cross on Good Friday.
I remember… when the storm ceased and the sun shone through gentle drops of rain after the chalice was raised and Fr. Moses thundered, “Holy things are for the Holy!”
I remember… the oft repeated theme of the sermon to “try and love a little more.” Such a simple thing to do – we could all try.
I remember… partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ and experiencing a sense of rebirth.
The memories of these gifts from The Theotokos of Unexpected Joy Church in Ash Grove still serve to strengthen the foundation of my faith, and soften the soil of my heart to continually receive the seed of the Word of God wherever the liturgy of Christ is celebrated. Come and See!