Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Hales' Journey - Part 7:

Language School Clint and Debbie, with colleagues and language teacher Sure, we can learn Estonian--no problem! It's kind of like Spanish, right? Why are people looking at me funny when I say, "Hola! Como esta?"

Since I ended the last installment with the revelation that we were language school students with Metropolitan Stefanos, I would love to be able to say that his overwhelming Christian Spirit (which was evident) was more than we could oppose and we quickly were convinced that we MUST be a part of the Ancient Church.

Alas, the reality is that we ALREADY thought we were a part of that ancient church. So we had quite a bit of deprogramming to go through. To illustrate, I will relate one conversation that Urmas and I had with Met. Stefanos. We were speaking and the Metropolitan was obviously very excited. We asked him why this was the case and he told us that the Church had just received a new icon and that it was to be blessed later that day so that it could be used in the services at the chapel at the Church Offices. Once Urmas and I were alone, we both smirked and said to ourselves, “Yeah! Let’s get real excited. We have another idol to worship. Whoopee!” Yep, lots of deprogramming….

His Eminence STEPHANOS, Metropolitan of Tallinn and all Estonia with the Hales' language teacher, Merike

To be honest, other than his Christian example, the Metropolitan didn’t really have much religious influence on us, beyond being mentioned in our newsletters. I mean, really, you didn’t think we could let the fact that we were up close and personal with a “head guy” of some errant church group go without us harping about it at every opportunity. Oh yes, we took full advantage of it. We talked it up really big. We had made contact with him and once we had shown him the error of his ways, we would be expecting to bring in several tens of thousands of his “followers” with him to the “one true church.” Yeah, sad. I know.

For several months, our only Orthodox “contact” was in language class. But those classes only lasted several weeks at a time, with large breaks between sessions, so it was not really a big deal. We moved to the Estonia in June. The following spring, during Easter, we were invited to attend the Midnight Mass at the Catholic Church and we agreed to go.

Our language teacher, Merike, was raised as a Lutheran (the traditional Estonian church), but was very good friends with one of the Catholic priests (she had taught him Estonian). She was the one who invited us to go. Urmas and I went with her and experienced that service. I am very tempted to write about it, but it really isn’t relevant to the story at hand, so I won’t. But if you ever see me, and we have the time, ask me to tell you about it, because it was a hoot.

By the time that service was over, the public transportation was stopped for the night. So we were walking to our homes so that we could drive Merike home. We only lived about a half mile away. As we were walking, we passed an Orthodox Church. The Estonian Orthodox Church follows the Western Calendar (like Finland), so they were having their Pascha Liturgy as we passed. Merike asked if we wanted to go in and watch some of the service. Now, Urmas and I can be irreverent and goofy in the best of times. We had just endured 4 hours of Roman Catholicism at its finest (with the whole funny story that goes along with it). Were we wiser, we would have declined.

Ss. Simeon and Anna Church, Tallinn, Estonia

Instead, we agreed to go on in. Picture the scene: It is dark. The only light is from candles near the altar area and the small amounts of firelight that are coming from the cracks in the door of the wood burning stove that was heating the entire structure. It is smoky, both from the fire and the incense. It was deathly quiet. And then….

One of the priests at the altar began to chant. It was not a quiet chant. It was very LOUD. And bless his heart, while I am sure this priest was a wonderful man, he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. His abnormally loud outburst struck Urmas and me very funny. It didn’t help that it was in Estonian and we didn’t understand what he was saying (some of those words were beyond our meager abilities). But we both burst out laughing.

Every person in the church turned to look at us. We were laughing too hard to care. Merike was looking for a hole to crawl into. She quickly ushered us out and we continued our journey home. Looking back, the thing that really makes me glad about that night was that Metropolitan Stefanos wasn’t there. He was in another city that evening.

That was a good thing. As the story unfolds, you will find out that it was in that very church that Urmas and I first really got introduced to Orthodoxy and first became convinced of the truth and rightness of the Orthodox Church’s claim to be the ancient church.


s-p said...

Soooo true. My first contact with an Orthodox Church was a church tour and short lecture at a food festival where they claimed to be the "NT Church". My Church of Christ friend and I had to stifle our giggles sitting amidst the idols and "catholicism". 25 years later, I'm defending it on the radio... and God is giggling. :)

charlene said...

Deacon Mel, using the alias"Melvin Marx", was just a kind and gentle man who had been sent to teach me to use a cane. The first time I asked him if I could use the "G" word (God), I told him I was a firm believer inGod, and a firm disbeliever in organized religion. I quite imagine God had a good chortle over that remark, knowing that within 6 weeks or so, I would be eating my words. I love examples in people's lives where the last thing you would ever suspect would happen, does - and there is no doubt God's hand is in it.

Clint said...

Yes, I have learned the hard way to "never say never."

Wait until I get to the part about Church History class and our meeting with His Eminence...

Jim H. said...

Your story is great reading.

I wonder what to make of the COC folks converting to Orthodoxy? It sure seems like some of the most interesting bloggers and writers I've come across lately came from that church.

Please keep the good stories coming (but more often!)

Jim Hale
Ex-Pat Texan in Virginny

Clint said...

Hi Jim,

I just ran and checked your profile, etc and saw your old blog. I will get to this later in the story (though it has little to do with our conversion), but our youngest child was adopted while we lived in Estonia and is of Ukrainian descent.

Until last summer, we were also Texans living in Virginia...

And we have the same last name.

That is just too quirky and weird...

Oh, and to the CoC thing. I don't have a definitive answer, but one thing the CoC does drill into one's head is the fact that we are striving to BE the NT Church (major theme of an upcoming installment). Those of us without absolute blinders sometimes stumble onto the truth and because of our hardheadedness, we really dig into it.

Just a thought...