Fr John Parker is the pastor of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in Mt Pleasant, South Carolina, and the Chair of the Department of Evangelization of the Orthodox Church in America. He graduated the College of William and Mary (1993) with a major in Spanish and a minor in German. He earned his MDiv at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. After being received into the Orthodox Church, he earned an MTh at St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, where is also currently enrolled in the Doctor of Ministry program. He has been a frequent writer for Charleston, SC's Post and Courier. He and Matushka Jeanette celebrated 20 years of marriage in April 2014, and have two sons nearing High School graduation.
So many churches (especially in the OCA) in the Northeast are celebrating, right now, their half- or centennial anniversaries. What marvelous celebrations.
I give thanks to God for every Orthodox Christian, who 50-100 years ago brought and kept the Holy Orthodox Faith in this land, so that I, a stranger and sojourner, could eventually find the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and be grafted into it.
I rejoice as an Orthodox Christian no longer to be a “xeno” (stranger) or a “paroichos” (Greek root of ‘parochial’—attached, but not in, the house).
I rejoice with every Orthodox Christian, converted to Christ beginning at baptism, to be a “fellow citizen with the saints”.
Among others, I personally thank the following families in my own parish, whose own relatives brought the faith from their homelands so that my very own parish in South Carolina could come into existence:
The Pyshe family who kept the faith in Detroit. MI.
The Chernoskys who kept the faith in Brooklyn, NY.
The Drengas, whose family kept the faith in Yonkers, NY.
The Barnas, whose family kept the faith in Charleston, WV
The Boras family, who kept the faith in Endicott, NY
Without the faithfulness of these families and their descendants, and their movement to Mount Pleasant, SC, Holy Ascension Orthodox Church would not have existed for my family to find.
Our mission had the blessing of building a beautiful church from the ground up. We studied all sorts of architecture and plans, and three full processes later, settled together on a design. We rejoice in the result, and when we are silent, “the very stones cry out”. That is to say, the building itself shares the Gospel. We are indebted to George Holt and Andrew Gould of New World Byzantine for their inspiration, guidance, and tireless labors.
Whatever variations in perspective we had concerning the actual shape and size of the Temple, we were always certain that we would arrange the church properly and traditionally on the land, facing east. After all, Orthodox Christians, facing the Holy Ascension (the name of our parish) and the second coming of Christ, pray towards the East. St John Chrysostom’s “domestic church”—our home—is designated in a similar way. It is our pious tradition to find an Eastward corner of the home in which to say our daily prayers.
The outward results of an Eastward-facing nave are literally visible on several occasions each day, and super-specifically at certain times of the year. The Sun, in its daily course, moves from east to west, shining its rays of light into the Church of God through various windows at important times.
Before I give an example or two, let me say a word about our baptismal font also. We had read about, and some had seen, churches from early Byzantium who had their original Baptisteries in a separate building. We were intrigued by such a possibility, but for cost reasons (a small mission parish…) we decided to keep the adult font in the church itself.
The next (theo)logical place for the font (4 feet x 4 feet x 4 feet) is the Narthex, interpreted as “the world” (as opposed to the nave, the “church on earth,” or the altar, “the church in heaven”). While the fire department spoiled our attempts at symmetry (we had to move it from narthex center to slightly off center for emergency regress purposes), still we built it in the floor of the narthex, underground. Baptism is death to life!
The font has one staircase, which descends to the west, and ascends to the east, and the last step is literally in the doorway between narthex and nave. Thus, the newly-baptized faces the world one last time before descending into the life-giving waters of baptism, turns about, and then enters the church, facing east, taking his or her last step from the world (narthex) into the Church (the nave). A beautiful pageant for the eyes which narrates the inner spiritual working of the Holy Spirit in Baptism.
Now, back to the light. What are the newly-baptized Christians called? Newly-illumined. We baptize “at an early hour”, and it is typical for the newly-baptized to step out of the font into the nave, at just about the 3rd hour (9am), at which time the sun’s rays, rising in the east, pierce our dome and flood the newly baptized, showing them to be both outwardly and inwardly Newly-illumined. An architectural and theological “benefit” of an East-facing church.
Likewise, and especially in the Summer, the setting sun, coming through our west wall window, shines directly on the Icon of Christ on the Iconostas precisely at the singing of “Gladsome Light” at Vespers.
These are some of the external beauties of a “traditionally oriented” Church.
But the building is just a building. As glorious as it is, it is secondary to the Christian, whose very person is a living building, the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
When one is baptized, the rubrics call for the baptismal candidate to “face the west”, during which moments he or she renounces the devil and his wickedness, concluding in breathing and spitting upon him. This is one’s rejection, westwardly facing, of his disorientation.
With a liturgical about-face enacting “epistrepho”, one of the two biblical verbs for repentance (“metanoieo” means “change the mind”; “epistrepho” means “turn and face the other direction”), one faces east again. In a simple word: re-orients. What a beautiful image! What a transforming action! What splendor of divine Grace!
The life of a human being could be seen in these three words:
Oriented: created through the Love of God, to love Jesus, whose name is “Anatoliy”—“Dayspring”, “East”, “Orient”.
Disoriented: a move away from Orient, Jesus, towards the world and the devil.
Reoriented: turned around to face the Lord once again.
There is only one Orientation for all human beings: to face Jesus Christ, on his terms, following his commandments.
Everything else is Disorientation.
But every morning, the Sun’s light reminds us of our illumination in Christ, and which way is Jesus, the Orient from on High.
And every evening, when darkness begins to fall on the land, and the realm of the devil has its nocturnal dawn, the setting sun shines on Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first.
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