This month a description of a pilgrimage won. Congratulations, JamesR!
Well folks, the time is finally here. In the years I've lived in the Bay Area I've never attended the Joy of All Who Sorrow, and so, I have finally got off my lazy butt decided to go.
One problem though...
My father is taking me and he is not Orthodox. I'm worried about him being overwhelmed by the sheer awesome-ness of it and feeling uncomfortable or even scared. He can barely handle a normal Liturgy at my tiny OCA parish. Anyone have any advice on how I could prepare him for it and get through this day without anything bad happening?
So, how did it go?
From my Facebook note on it:
As a convert to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, I'm very blessed and lucky to live in California--especially the Bay Area. Next to Alaska where the first Orthodox Missionaries came to America, the Bay Area is probably the holiest place in all of North America. So far, about four literal Orthodox Saints have been associated with the Bay Area--Blessed Fr. John Karastamatis of Santa Cruz, a martyr Saint who was brutally murdered in Santa Cruz back in the 70s by Satanists, St. Peter the Aleut, another martyr Saint, he was an Aleutian Indian from Alaska who was martyred in San Francisco by Roman Catholic Missionaries back in the 18th century for refusing to renounce his Orthodox faith. And then you have Blessed Fr. Seraphim Rose and St. John Maximovitch--the Saint whose relics I came to venerate today.
Anyhow, San Francisco is also home to the holiest, largest Orthodox Church in all of North America; the Joy of All Who Sorrow. Two out of the four aforementioned Saints have been associated with it. St. John Maximovitch served this Church, and his relics are housed there as well, and Blessed Fr. Seraphim Rose was also baptized inside of the Joy of All Who Sorrow Church. It is really a holy place. So, anyhow, I've been wanting to visit the Joy of All Who Sorrow for a VERY long time, however, I've never had the opportunity to go, and my parents weren't that interested in taking me, since they are not Orthodox, but finally, my opportunity came, and my dad said that he would take me.
So I woke up today at 5:30AM and took a shower, got dressed in my formal clothes and made myself look as sharp and good as I could. I even applied that expensive cologne my grandmother gave me one Christmas. At around 6:45AM we left for San Francisco. Along the way, I was full of anticipation and worry at the same time--what was it going to be like? Will I witness a miracle? Will my father be overwhelmed by the sheer awesomeness of it? Will the Icons and incense freak the heck out of him? (as I know Protestants are generally opposed to this stuff). I didn't know. And this wasn't just a normal Divine Liturgy, but this was going to be a full-blown imperial, greatest-in-North-America Divine Liturgy (literally).
As we approached closer to San Francisco, the feeling of anticipation got stronger, and the worrisomeness decreased. As we crossed over the bridge and I saw the ocean, I started contemplating on the Bay Area Saints I mentioned earlier, and thinking about how Holy it is. When I saw the ocean, I couldn't help but think of St. Peter the Aleut sailing over here and then being tortured and martyred. When I saw the beaches, I couldn't help but think of when St. John Maximovitch used to walk those beaches barefoot in the bitter cold praying his heart out, calming the storms, helping the homeless and just working all these great miracles and stuff in this very city. When I saw all the ghetto drug addicts, weirdos, and LGBT people roaming the streets, I couldn't help but think of St. Paul's words that "where sin was made full, grace abounded," and Christ's words that He came to heal the sick and sinners. This dirty city--full of sin, wickedness, and sorrow--is the city God chose to bless, giving it like four Saints and the holiest Orthodox Church in North America.
We finally got to the Joy of All Who Sorrow, and unfortunately we were half an hour late because of traffic, and the Liturgy had already started. Anyhow, I swallowed any remaining fear I had and went inside of the Church with my dad. We used the bathroom and then my dad left for a little while to attend a job interview somewhere. I was left alone there.
So, I joined the Liturgy and I was AMAZED by how HUGE and beautiful the Joy of All Who Sorrow was. Literally every square inch of the walls and ceilings were DECKED OUT with Icons, hand-painted and everything. There were gold candle stands, beautiful plants, amazing architecture. The Icons though stood out to me the most. My home parish in Fremont is more humble and smaller, so I had never seen such a huge, beautiful cathedral before.
The Liturgy was in old Church Slavonic, so I didn't understand a word of it, nor could I understand the other parishioners--most of which only spoke Russian and very little (if any) English. I didn't care though; I still knew the ropes and crossed myself and prostrated myself when everyone else did and bowed before the Eucharist chalice.
After only five minutes inside, I was literally overwhelmed. The sheer Holiness of this place was really sinking in. I had thoughts racing all across my mind as I stared at all the Icons beautifully adorning every square inch. Here I am standing in literally the Holiest Orthodox Church in all of North America--the place where St. John Maximovitch (whose relics were only two feet away from me) served and used to work miracles, the place where Blessed Fr. Seraphim Rose was baptized, the place where Orthodox Christians all around the world pilgrimage too. And here I am, lucky enough to live only half an hour away.
Normally I'm a pretty stable person emotionally; I don't demonstrate much emotion nor cry much, but, something happened. I couldn't control it, and I still don't quite understand why it happened, but being in the presence of so much Holiness with a literal Saint only two feet away from me in the Holiest Orthodox Church in the nation got to me. I bursted into tears and was crying uncontrollably. I don't know why. Tears were flooding from my eyes as I desperately tried to stop them. Thoughts about all the bad things I had ever done were racing across my mind. Most memorable was probably a time when I spat upon an Icon of Christ in my bedroom and threw it out of anger and said I wish I had never existed. I kept reciting the Jesus Prayer as I cried uncontrollably ("O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner").
I went up to St. John Maximovitch's relics--now, the relics are housed inside of a golden casket with a glass, see-through cover on the top of it, where you could see his entire body, still preserved to this very day from his sheer Holiness. He was still wearing his Bishop garment, and had his staff by his side, and his face was covered with a pretty cloth, the only flesh I could see were his hands--which were carefully positioned on top of his chest. I crossed myself and made a prostration before going up, and when I did go up to his relics, the tears got even worse. I kissed his casket three or four times, saying a prayer to him in between each kiss. I kept praying for my parents for some reason--out of all the things I could have prayed to him for while venerating his relics, my parents were the first thing that came to mind. I kept praying to him that they would become Orthodox someday, and after every kiss, the tears came even worse. I started thinking about the "Ladder of Divine Ascent" and "Sayings of the Desert Fathers" where certain monks used to cry "Holy Tears" all the time and deemed it a great gift to be able to mourn and cry for your sins and for others. Were the tears I shed Holy? I don't know. What if they were simply the result of me--a horrible sinner--being in the presence of such Holiness, and acted as a way of motivating me to be a better person? What if I'm in Hell right now and God allowed me to shed so many tears as a way to realize my wretched state? I believe it was St. John Maximovitch himself who said "Hades is not a place, no, but a state of the soul, and it begins here on Earth." Maybe I'm in that state and need to rise out of it. Who knows?
Anyhow, it then became time to receive the Eucharist at the end of the Liturgy. I got in line and unfortunately when my turn came, the Priest turned me down and did not commune me, for two reasons. First, because he did not recognize me and wasn't sure if I was Orthodox or not (he related to me how oftentimes Protestants and Roman Catholics come in and try to receive the Eucharist--which is reserved only for the faithful--but are turned down). I told him how I'm from St. Christina's and showed him my Baptismal Cross and told him the name of my Priest who baptized me, and he then believed me. However, I still couldn't receive the Eucharist because I missed the Gospel reading earlier in the Liturgy (stupid traffic). Canon law I believe says that if a person misses the Gospel reading, that they cannot receive the Eucharist. However, he was very kind about it, and still allowed me to venerate the Cross and gave me a Priest's blessing.
After the Liturgy was over, this nice middle-aged man came up to me and introduced himself to me. He was one of the only other English speakers at the parish. Guess what I found out? He was a monk! He was wearing a black cassock and had a huge beard, and was from a nearby Orthodox monastery. I told him how I've been aspiring towards monasticism and he mentored me a bit, and we talked for a little while before he had to go. I then spent probably another ten minutes by St. John's relics praying and venerating them before I prepared to leave.
My dad came back to pick me up and before we left, he wanted to see the relics as well. So, I guided him through the huge, beautiful cathedral adorned with Icons and showed him St. John. Before we left, I wanted to get a picture, but I wasn't sure if it was allowed or not. My dad--lol, acting as the little Devil on my left side--told me that since this is my only opportunity, I should get some quick pictures. So, I figure, what the Hell? I don't got my license yet (where I could then come here whenever I want) and my parents aren't Orthodox (so I don't know when/if they'll take me here again), so I pulled out my camera and snapped a quick picture. Immediately, this old lady--"babushkas" I believe they're called--gives me a dirty look and angrily says something in Russian, and so I stop, apologize real fast, kiss his relics one last time and then leave the room.
In the front of the Church just by the doors to exist, there is a small little counter that sells candles, Icons, books, jewelry, and other Orthodox things. I purchased an Icon of Christ for $12, and my dad bought a Christ bookmark for $0.50. I then said good bye to the Priest and he gave me a small book about St. John with an Akatheist (sp?) service to him inside of it, and a small keychain-sized Icon of St. John that's supposed to be a blessing. Nice man.
After that, we left and came home, and then I wrote this note. I will be posting images of the stuff I got from my trip along with the one quick snapshot I got of St. John before the dear old lady told me to stop.
All in all, it was a very nice experience, and I won't be forgetting it. I hope that I could someday live up to the amazing standard set by St. John Maximovitch.