27 May 2008

Of Alcohol and Altar Boys

So, I have really not had much in the way of alcohol in a while. I used to be a moderate to heavy drinker, but in recent years, it has lost its appeal. I might enjoy the occasional evening glass of wine or beer, and while I keep liquor on hand, I hardly ever drink it anymore. I credit the fact that I have replaced an unhealthy fixation with something of a better one--that of the struggle for living a Christian life (which, more often than not, I fail miserably at...).

Nevertheless, with my current deluge of altar boys, I may have to start drinking again.

Let me back up and give the full story. For the better part of the last year, I have done altar service at every church service my parish has had, and through most of them I've done it completely and totally alone. Me and Fr. D--that's it. Father's two older grandsons (9 and 6/7), during that time, would occasionally serve. His son in law (the boys' father), who is also a Reader, would serve when we had a second Reader; we no longer have a second Reader in our parish, so he now has to resume those duties at every service. So, I said, "God, please send me some help back here" most Sundays during Divine Liturgy.

Gospodi Pomiluj! God works in mysterious ways. Not two weeks after we moved into our new facility, we had a Greek family begin coming to our parish--and they have two boys (15 and 13). They have never served before, as their previous Greek parish was so large that the boys never had an opportunity to serve. Their mother is very devout, and wants the boys to learn to serve at the altar, so, I got two new altar boys. This, of course, led my other two part-timers (9 and 6/7) to want to serve every week, because the other boys are serving every week. So, in a short period of time, I've gone from just me, to having enough boys for full processions.

Well, it didn't take me long to realize that, as a new covert who has done a lot of work to try to 'get it right' when serving (1 year crash course!), I still get it wrong. Also, in this crash course, I've been serving alone--so I'm lost on some of the finer points of full processions, never having actually done one. Compounded with this, I have a 7 year old who wants my constant attention, a 9 year old who pays more attention to the contents of his nasal passages than the liturgy, a 13 year old who really wants to learn everything and so watches me like a hawk (oh man! if he only knew!), and a 15 year old who is not really into it and seems to be serving just to please his mom.

Now, our temporary chapel has no iconostasis, so everything we're doing at the altar can be seen (and heard--it's a small space), so it's not easy to give instruction and help the boys figure things out--because I'm very aware that we're being distracting. Plus I have my trusty liturgy book, which is marked for CANDLES, CENSOR, FANS, etc at the appropriate places. It's my security blanket; without it, I would probably still know what to do, but I would freak out and mess up. So, Sunday, the 6 year old, who has a book identical to mine, grabbed my book and went to the other side of the altar, and I had his. So, I'm just going through, and I missed the first cue for the censor. I instantly knew what was wrong. I got it fixed, but then, once I make one mistake, I make another and another. It's the stress.

So, I'm herding this troupe of cats back behind the altar, trying to stay out of Father's way, trying not to distract the people by drawing attention to me/us during the liturgy...and all of the sudden, as we're praying the anaphora prayers, I wonder: why did I want help again?

The it hits me: This is to teach you patience and humility.

I can't say I "heard" it. I was focused on looking at the Chalice, and I just...had this impression that came completely from outside me, clear, distinct, and undeniable. This is to teach me patience and humility. Humility to accept correction when I am doing things wrong in the service, and when the boys whom I am directing make mistakes as well. Humility, to accept the responsibility for their actions, and patience to teach them what they're supposed to do.

In the long run, I don't need to drink to deal with the stress; I'm fully aware of that. And I'm not going to. But I know that some things must be done, and I am far from perfect, and am generally unwilling to do many things for my own salvation. Therefore, the Lord has taken over, and has given me exactly what I have been asking for: help serving and ways to improve my spiritual condition.

So now, I'm praying: Lord, give me the strength to accept the help Thou art giving me!


Brigitte said...

What a story :) Yeah, somehow I don't think a nice vodka tonic (my fave) will do much good for patience and perseverence

As a parent, my second thought (after empathizing with a laugh) was how great it is that you are there to make it possible for those boys to serve. I can imagine the mother's joy knowing that this experience will forever be engraved in her sons' minds (whether they like it or not, lol).

Things are more "cool" and memorable when there is someone older (but not too old) doing it too. Plus, there is so much to be learned by that experience (esp for young boys): attention to detail, how to slow down and perhaps even stand still, respect/reverence...you know better than me. But most important is the unseen impression made on their hearts by serving our Lord in this special way. Anyway, I'll get out of mother-mode, now.

May the Lord bless you with patience...you're really gonna need it! :) lol!

Duke said...

Thats interesting, it makes me wanna think twice before asking God for somethings, because boy does he load on some opportunities to grow in the virtues. There truly is no such thing as a free lunch.

Chocolatesa said...

"a 9 year-old who pays more attention tothe contentes of his nasal passages than the Liturgy"