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oil and water…

I believe, O Lord, and I confess that thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who didst come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. And I believe that this is truly thine own immaculate Body, and that this is truly thine own precious Blood. Wherefore I pray thee, have mercy upon me and forgive my transgressions both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, of knowledge and of ignorance; and make me worthy to partake without condemnation of thine immaculate Mysteries, unto remission of my sins and unto life everlasting. Amen. Of thy Mystic Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of thy Mystery to thine enemies, neither will I give thee a kiss as did Judas; but like the thief will I confess thee: Remember me, O Lord, in thy Kingdom. Not unto judgement nor unto condemnation be my partaking of thy Holy Mysteries, O Lord, but unto the healing of soul and body.

For the last two years I have followed along in my prayer book during Divine Liturgy and even though I was not able to take communion I would say the communion prayer of St John Chrysostom along with the congregation. It always felt like a rehearsal as I stumbled through, in some ways empty to me because that payoff was not yet within my reach.

But today, during this Divine Liturgy, I received the Divine Mysteries for the first time as an Orthodox Christian. The chrismation the night before was as I’d expected. I read all of the prayers with sincerity and focus. I accepted the oil on my forehead, my face, my lips, my throat, my hands and my feet. The oil was warm, smooth on my skin. I greeted this with joy and peace but not tears. It was only overwhelming in some small fleeting way, creeping in, then running away fast. It was not that I was nervous about becoming Orthodox but rather that I simply wanted to be sure I was doing it right. I wanted to be sure I said the right things at the right time. It was the ceremony, the ritual, I wanted to get right because it was something I’d planned  in my head for years. The commitment was clear and I was ready.

It might have been that I was a bit disappointed in my own reaction, I took it in stride. Although I was able to enter in, surrounded by new community, long time friends and family, I was still absent someplace. I could sense that in me to some extent.

Then this morning I received for the first time, again, nervous about dribbling on my white shirt, necessitating Father John to call in the Orthodox HazMat squad to take care of the spilt blood and body of Christ. I was nervous about lighting the candle or not lighting the candle or when to come forward and how to place my hands correctly.

Just before I went forward I read the prayer of St John Chrysostom along with my fellow church goers, just as I had for the last year at this church. I got three words into the prayer when my voice left. I followed along, hoping to at least mouth the words but I was unable and the sound of the congregation echoed back to the night before when as the oil touched my skin the priest said, “the seal of the Holy Spirit” and the congregation repeated “the seal” each time. I ran my hand through my hair, unwashed from the night before, instructed by my godmother not to wash the oil away until after I’d received Divine Mysteries. And my hands were shaking as I told myself I was making too much of this, I was being overly dramatic. Perhaps this is the voice I’d been cultivating for the last two years as I attended catechism and Liturgy. Perhaps this is the lie I told myself to keep from feeling all of the fear and all of the hope too. But in this moment that voice washed away and what remained was the prayer before communion and the words that at last took me out of myself,

Not unto judgement nor unto condemnation be my partaking of thy Holy Mysteries, O Lord, but unto the healing of soul and body.

And I knew then how desperately in need of healing I’d been all this time and how deeply afraid I’d been of being rejected or disappointed or overemotional. I let go of that protective voice and was ushered forward to the chalice, Fr J saying the words I will hear each time I receive, “The servant of God, Theodora, partakes of the precious and all-holy Body and Blood of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, unto the forgiveness of sins and unto life everlasting.” 

At that moment I saw myself not stumbling around in dark rooms and unknown territory. At that moment I was home and it was good.