April 4, 2010: Easter Day -- The LORD is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
Final remarks, Dismissal & Blessing
April 3, 2010: Holy Saturday/ Easter Even
The Holy Saturday/ Easter Even liturgy begins with the Easter Even propers from the Book of Common Prayer including the Collect, the Epistle as written in I St. Peter 3:17-22 and the Gospel According St. Matthew 27:57-66, set up by Minor Propers taken from Psalms 88, 18 & 4.
Immediately afterward, all the lights in the church are extinguished; and a few moments later, the fire is struck & blessed in the Narthex, the Paschal Candle, Altar candles and tapers held by the congregants throughout the Nave are lighted from the New Fire of God, which burns as a sign of the presence of the resurrected Christ. The darkness banished is the beginning of the showing forth of the victory won on Good Friday. The saving acts of God in history are recounted in the Exsultet and in Holy Scripture while the people await the announcement of the Resurrection that will be celebrated on Easter Day.
March 28, 2010: Palm Sunday -- New Altar, New Relationships, New Beginnings
Soon after my arrival at St. Bartholomew's late last August, I promptly set a high priority on acquiring a new altar. It would be a big step in the first phase of my vision for the church. We haved hired a terrific organist, formed a seasonal choir, converted the electric Sanctuary Lamp to a fire-burning one, purchased new vestments and Oxford-style brass candlesticks, implemented some interior paint color changes, appointed a Master of Ceremonies and fine-tuned the Sunday liturgy -– all in an effort to bring more beauty and joyful reverence by unmistakably bringing the Presence of Christ to the front and center of our worship -- and thus, our lives -- in addition to providing a more visible sign of the traditional faith, order and worship to which we are committed and from which everything else we do emanates.
St. Bartholomew's Chancel & Altar as it appeared during the season of Lent 2010.
St. Bart's, a still young parish church, had continued to use a portable, fold-up altar put together during the "church-in-a-box" days before our present facilities were constructed. Completely hidden by a lovely tapestry frontal sewn together by the Altar Guild, newer parishioners had little-to-no idea that the Eucharist was being celebrated atop something that resembled a sawhorse bench; it is but one example of how resourceful the people here have been with limited means.
But the plywood top was beginning to sag in the middle, and it was clear that something would soon need to be done.
We needed something to reflect the fact that Christianity is the religion of history par excellence. I very much looked forward to bringing an Altar to St. Bart's that would usher in a sense of the transcendence, permanence and stability of our Faith amidst the changes and chances of this fleeting world, in part to honor those parishioners who had so sacrificed to keep this place afloat during leaner times. But even more so, the Altar is for us the focal point for our worship, prayers, praise and devotion because it is the place where Christ comes down to dwell in us and we in Him; therefore, it is not only the center of our world in Woodinville but of the cosmos and time itself. It represents the throne, the mercy seat, where God's grace and truth are conveyed. It stands at the apex of the holy ground where our lives intersect with the life of the world to come and where we are strengthened with the means to become more fully the human beings we were created to be.
So this altar was clearly going to have to be special.
I had been searching locally and beyond (in the past, I've even personally visited a huge used church items warehouse in Bristol, England); but shortly after Christmas, someone told me about the major reorganization that had taken place in the Diocese of Cleveland. I followed-up and learned about their program set up to find new church homes for everything from stained glass windows and crucifixes to altars that had been removed from the closed-down churches. Hopefully, this would be a way to make the best of a less than ideal situation. I contacted their designated agent and was able to review the altars via the Internet. There, by way of e-mails, PDF files and HTML coding, I found the altar that would eventually find its way to the Pacific Northwest.
I was excited, right off the bat, about the design and dimensions of what I'd found, in addition to the color of the wood, each and all of which I thought could mean that the aesthetics and proportions of the piece might well be ideal for our church. I fell in love with its history and loving home for more than a century, St. George's in Cleveland, which until its closure in October of 2009 was the oldest Lithuanian parish church in North America. And finally, as impressive as it appeared to be, the asking price was even more so since our means -- especially since we had just had a new roof installed and incurred some other major expenses related to the property and facilities -- were still pretty limited. Only one other altar that I had seen was comparable, and it was not just more expensive but simply cost prohibitive. This one, even with the outlay required for shipping it across the country, was a relative bargain.
So I printed out the images, recorded the measurements and shared them with my closest sidekick in this whole endeavor –- the Altar Guild Directress who also happens to be a founding member of the parish –- then with other parishioners. While one or two were a little nervous that the new addition would not pan out quite as ideally as appeared to be the case (I frankly was the most nervous of all), but on the whole, they responded quite positively. Without even commencing a special appeal, the donations began to come in; and within a few days, we were close enough to confidently place the order and arrange for a truck to pick it up and deliver it to us. Based on the projected delivery date, I set a target date that coincided with Palm Sunday for our first Holy Sacrifice at the new altar. Palm Sunday, Holy Week, the Sacred Triduum and Easter Day –- if all worked out according to plan, there could not possibly be a better time to see the altar and our parish church coming together, transformed and experiencing new life. The excitement was building amongst many parishioners as I was seemingly asked constantly about the status of our special delivery.
Restoration and reassembly work on the day before Palm Sunday.
Meanwhile, because of the history involved, it was important to me to make some phone calls, send a few e-mails and give the local Lithuanian community an opportunity to share in our joy. I in fact sensed a responsibility to do so. Their history as immigrants in this country and that of their motherland (especially over the past century or so) – with all they have endured and overcome – is very compelling to me. A people who converted late to Christianity, the Lithuanians fought heroically to "hold fast to that which is good" in the face of the Soviet regime.
Of the conversations I had, a particularly enjoyable one was with Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who represents Cleveland where he formerly served as mayor, fought to save St. George's (and other parish churches in the area), serves as the co-chair (with second-generation Lithuanian immigrant and Illinois representative John Shimkus) of the Congressional Baltic Caucus and is a devout Roman Catholic. He initially spoke with resignation and even anguish when recalling what had happened but turned much more upbeat when he learned that the altar was finding a new home because 1) he understands the integral role that such plays not only in his own faith but for Christians over the better part of two millennia (not to mention the Jewish Temple before), and 2) that the Roman Church has had an unfortunate recent history of destroying altars and other sacred items removed from churches. The congressman, best known to most as a 2008 presidential candidate, wished that he could be present but promised to send a letter to the faithful at St. Bartholomew's to convey his heartfelt best wishes.
The altar actually arrived a couple days early. Though it would not be delivered to the church for a couple more days, I had to rush down to the agent's warehouse and see it. And initially, I was a bit taken aback by what I saw: seeing it disassembled and in person revealed much more vividly than in the photographic images that the altar was indeed over a century old! There was clearly much to be done; but my Altar Guild Directress, to whom I had provided encouragement earlier in this process, went to see the altar, came back to the church and returned the favor. She assured me that not only had we received something special, but that we would get the necessary work done... and on time.
But we had a terrific team in place, and the final reassembly was coordinated by our patient but exacting Junior Warden. We did lots of cleaning as it was covered with at least 105 years of whatever floats around the air in Cleveland, replaced some missing bracing and had a major structural repair done by a talented, local woodworker, who also custom-cut a new top-surface, which we fixed atop the old one. Finally, I obtained a new altar stone, complete with the five engraved crosses to correspond with and represent the five wounds of Christ whilst on the Cross.
We completed the work late Saturday evening before Palm Sunday. Before leaving for the night, and after pausing for a few moments in awe before this Throne of judgment and mercy that had astonishingly come back together before our eyes, I transferred the Blessed Sacrament to its new Tabernacle home, and we knelt before our Lord at the Altar Rail to pray. Time stood still.
The Altar is restored, reassembled and fixed to a newly-repainted East Wall.
A few hours later, we were back at the church and in the Parish Hall for the Liturgy of Palms, then made our way up the hill for the Procession. In addition to many of our regular faithful, members of the Seattle Area's Lithuanian community were present, including Lithuania's Consulate General, Vytautas Lapatinskas. What wonderful people! Local leader Rimas Miksys brought a number of items from the motherland to mark the occasion – a national crest of St. George hung on the wall of the Chancel, a banner hung from the lectern, a hand-carved Sorrowful Christ took its place on the Altar, the Narthex was beautifully adorned, and I wore a handmade Lithuanian stole for the duration of the liturgy. During the announcements, I welcomed our guests, noted that the special day was during the same month as Lithuania's independence day (from the USSR), patron saint Casimir's feast day (which is also a national holiday) and that the same saint and feast day in Lithuania are particularly associated with none other than Palm Sunday. Then, I read to the congregation the warm and lovingly expressed sentiments from Congressman Kucinich, who evidently knows something of sacramental theology. After the Post Communion Prayer and before the Dismissal and Blessing, one of the guests, beautifully decked-out in nationalistic dress, prayed the anthem “Marija, Marija” exactly where it had been during the Sunday Mass back at the Altar's first home.
Above: Liturgy of the Palms, Procession, chanting of the Gospel, announcements, recitation of "Marija, Marija," and Fr. Davis with the Consulate General & other representatives from the Seattle Area Lithuanian community (Photos courtesy of Rimas Miksys & Cynthia Davis).
All seemed to agree that it was but the commencement of a permanent, endearing relationship, which will see regular events celebrating this symbol and source of the inward and spiritual bond that connects us in a mysterious but very real and organic way to them. As the congressman rightly said, the Altar ultimately belongs to God; and we could not be more honored & humbled that through this gift, the prayers, hopes and dreams of generations of saints leading through northeast Ohio (where we also have a number of new friends who have responded generously and enthusiastically to the recent developments) and back to Vilnius, Kaunas & elsewhere in the old country are now very much tied-up with our own as fellow pilgrims en route to the God from whom we come and to whom we shall return.
The existential and eternal bottom line? “A living Christ dwells in a living Church,” the late Bishop Charles Grafton wrote. This new Altar, which looks like it has absorbed the worship and devotions of the faithful at St. Bart's for as long as St. Bart's has been around, is an “outward sign that the inner life of the Church is aglow with the radiance of heaven.” In a region where, like much of the rest of the country, people are beginning to look for something more than the man-focused, marketplace of American religion typified by banal praise bands, drop-down presentation screens, numbing light shows and “relevant” sermons based on gnostic, quasi-Christian teachings, I believe that St. Bartholomew's Church is really coming into its own and on its way to a very bright future.
And remember the full, tapestry frontal from the old portable altar? A portion of it was beautifully adapted as a superfrontal for the new Altar, bringing together St. Bartholomew's past with that of St. George's in Cleveland as we both strive to live into the victory won by The Church's One Foundation.
So on Palm Sunday, tears of joy were aplenty from start to finish, inside and out, upstairs and down; and we buckled down for the solemn week ahead.
But what a day!
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