For whatever reason, I’ve been thinking back a good deal lately, to when I first became Orthodox. Tonight was no exception.
Seventeen years ago, there I was, fumbling around in The Book, desperately trying to keep up with a priest and a chanter who had been doing this thing all their lives, literally. And for some reason, the melody that stuck in my ear that year, and every year since, was, “Behold the Bridegroom cometh in the middle of the night, and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching; and again, unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless.” I don’t know why this melody so appeals to me, but it does, so much so that a couple of years later I leaned over to my husband and said, “I just love this part.” And he whispered back, “Do you know what they’re talking about?!” in a tone of pure horror — he’s always had a Thing about death — and I said, of course, “Yes. Isn’t it wonderful?” I’m sure he thought I’d lost my marbles.
I think his Thing has a lot to do with all those Requiem Masses he served as a kid, all that Doom and Gloom and Death and Damnation. I can’t say that that has never worried me — if you have any brains at all, the thought of that face-to-face encounter with your Creator should at least give you pause — but I don’t dread it so much that I’d put it off at all possible costs. I mean, it’s not like you could put it off forever, right?!
And then, this time last year, I was standing with the choir, having just sung the Hymn of Kassiani — yes, I know that’s tomorrow, but it’s the time of year generally that I’m thinking about — glaring down at the cause of my exile from the parish, Father Let’s-Drag-This-Hopelessly-Antiquated-Church-into-the-Twentieth-Century (and yes, I know it’s now the 21st century) — and I remember transferring my glare to the icon of Christ on the iconostasis and saying, “Ya know — he’s been with us six years now. You transferred Fr. Dean out of our parish after six years. It’s Time for this character to Go.” And I had no idea that at that point, he either had his marching orders already or was within days of receiving them. What a difference a year makes. This year, we had “Father Count” up there chanting the Troparia, helping out the chanter and his two assistants, pouring all his heart and soul into what he was singing, and doing it with the most exquisite voice this side of Paradise.
Well, so. When the Bridegroom comes for me, will I be ready? Probably not. There’s always something you meant to get around to and never did. I keep telling Him that if He doesn’t mind, I’d just as soon put it off another couple of years — after all, if I go now, my husband will be stuck with his father’s affairs, which give new meaning to the word “labyrinthine,” and there are also my numerous cross-stitch projects, some of which I’d like to get done. And I’d also like to have a clue as to whom I should leave all my needlework paraphernalia to — my daughter isn’t interested, and she has no daughters, and my son refuses even to consider marriage, so that avenue is closed.
The question assumes an uncomfortable immediacy as of May 20, when I go in for another round of surgery, to repair a hernia caused by the last round of surgery. The thought of going through all that again is daunting, and frankly makes the prospect of death not all that unpleasant. After all, if I died, at least the ghouls couldn’t get their hands on me for a third round. But there’s that Preparedness thing.
So no, I’m not ready. But at least I would know, one way or another, where I’ll be spending eternity. At least that question would be solved.
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