Patricia Anastasia Bartlett is the author of 'Glimpses of Glory', a collection of meditations published by Synaxis Press. Over the years, she has contributed to a number of local newspapers and magazines as a freelance journalist, humour, lifestyle and/or religion columnist. She, her husband and five children joined the Orthodox Church in 2000. She and her husband presently attend and serve at St. Aidan's Orthodox Mission in Cranbrook, BC.
As a sinful follower of Jesus Christ, my ultimate goal is to see God and His kingdom. When I first became Orthodox, the one I’ve turned to for guidance is the Theotokos. She is the most pure, totally devoted to serving and worshipping God. Because of her, and through her, Love was able to enter the world.
I have been somewhat lax in my devotion lately, but my love for the Theotokos was renewed when I attended a woman’s monastery for the Nativity of the Theotokos on September 8. This was the first major feast since the Church New Year on September 1, which made me stop and think, “Didn’t we just celebrate the Dormition of the Theotokos?”
Oh yeah, that was August 15, the last major feast of the Church before the New Year. With my penchant for symbolism, I saw the feasts of the Theotokos as arms encircling all of our Orthodox beliefs and celebrations. She is the Protector of all Christians.
“All creation rejoices in you, oh Theotokos….”
We arrived at the monastery on September 6 in time for supper. And because we planned to attend the Paraclesis service at 4:30 am the next day, we retired early for bed. It was a dark quarter-mile walk through the trees, occasionally lit by phone flashlight so we wouldn’t stumble. As we approached the clearing surrounding the church, we were summoned to worship by the bells and, since the monastery was far from the lights of a city, we were enveloped by the black velvet sky, punctuated by the stars declaring the glory of the Lord, so bright and clear in the crisp morning air. Entering the church, our senses were filled with the chanting of the nuns, the smell of incense and flickering light of the candles.
This was the first time I had visited the church since it had been built. It was too dark to see its beauty, but I could feel it—the quiet rhythmic padding of soft-soled shoes on the solid marble floors, the creak of wood as I shifted in my stasidia, (or stall) and the vaulted ceiling high above us. This was a short service, a half hour or so of prayer to the Theotokos.
“It is truly meet to bless you, O Theotokos, ever-blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honourable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim, without defilement you gave birth to God the Word. True Theotokos, we magnify you!”
Morning was only the preparation for the five-hour vigil planned to begin at 8:30 pm—compline, vespers, matins, and divine liturgy celebrating the Nativity of the Theotokos. Our day was spent quietly.
Walking to the church that evening reminded me of the early morning walk, except now different stars were in the sky. For compline, the atmosphere in the church was also similar, but that was soon to change.
Something I had never seen in any other church was the huge chandelier. This was in two parts—a central chandelier about 10 feet tall and a ring around it about 20 feet in diameter. If the size wasn’t enough, what really made this chandelier unusual was that it was lit with candles, dozens and dozens of candles. There was no chain and pulley to lower and raise it. Instead the candles were lit by hand, or more precisely, by long extendible poles equipped with a wick and a snuffer.
While the singing continued, three nuns lit all the candles. Then they hooked their poles on the side and gently spun the outer ring in one direction and let go. The ring rotated about 90 degrees and then returned, back and forth like a circular, sideways pendulum. Meanwhile, the centre chandelier was given a gentle push, tracing a circle in time with the outer ring. Three times during the vigil, the chandelier was lit, spun and snuffed.
It was mesmerizing. As each candle was lit, it reminded me of stars appearing in the night sky, one by one. As the chandelier was spun, the candles soundlessly traced threads of light across the sanctuary, drawing the eyes upwards to mystically see the church triumphant, the angels and the saints. The bells rang outside, the nuns chanted inside and the intoxicating fragrance of the flowers called all of creation to worship, to leave all cares behind, to be pure in heart, to see God and to be present in His Kingdom here and now.
The little children played on the marble floor or cuddled in blankets sleeping while waiting for the birth of the one who would willingly bring salvation into the world; the Mother of our God, the Panagia, the Theotokos, my example.
Your obedience to God’s
love has saved us all.