I had the opportunity to travel to my home of Pennsylvania this summer. One of the joys I indulge myself when I travel is to explore other expressions of the vast Christian faith. Having grown up a Catholic and a Christian in Pittsburgh, PA, I experienced a culturally rich and diverse Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant church. I was not unusual to see in a community, a Czech Catholic church down the street from a Polish Catholic church.
In the South Side area, you could attend a Serbian Orthodox church or jump down to the Russian Orthodox Church. One might take the stance of: “Why can’t these Christians get along?” But I think there is a better way to look at this. For me it is: “Wow, how much more of the infinite God we get to experience.” For the reality is, can any one expression of the Christian faith even begin to express the infinite expression of God, as revealed to us through His Son, Jesus the Christ? So….I explore!
Needing a retreat opportunity, I went to Antiochin Village, a Greek Orthodox Retreat Center in Ligonier, PA, located in the green, rolling mountains of central PA. The location alone was prayerful enough, but this center had an iconographer in residence. You’ve seen the icons of Jesus, flat representations of Christ usually with piercing eyes. Very popular in Russian and Greek cultural settings! As I have gotten older, I have become more visual with a growing appreciation for visual forms of worship and prayer.
So, I was looking forward to the daily liturgy of the hours that would be held in the Chapel, complete with iconic expressions Christ and the Holy Family. The morning, mid-day, dinner, evening and compline opportunities to gather for prayer, while having the potential of becoming routine, also remind me to strive to be in a ceaseless state of prayer, regardless of what is happening around me. God is present in every season, cold, hot, rainy, sunny, etc., throughout the days and times of our lives.
Music from Heaven!
I hit the worship jackpot. Coinciding with my visit was the national gathering of liturgical leaders from the Orthodox church. Worship led by and with the most talented music ministry and worship leaders in the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox service is predominately sung (think Gregorian Chants!). The melodic tones provide a different experience of moving into a prayerful space before God. Perhaps it was just getting out of the routine of my usual forms of prayer. The scriptures call for on more than one occasion to lift our voices to God. Part of lifting our voice, is being mindful of what it is we are saying, for routine is always lurking.
As I focused upon the form of prayer, and began to merge that with my reflection upon the iconic expressions of Christ, I entered into an incarnational experience of Christ’s presence. It was a very similar experience to being in a Methodist church and singing the hymns of Charles Wesley, or hearing the Psalms sung in a Reformed Presbyterian Church. Each offer a window into the vastness of Christ’s presence.
For those of us who work in college age ministry, our campuses offer us the challenges of expressing the Gospel to a multitude of cultures, but oh what joy we also gain in experiencing the vastness of God as expressed through such diverse settings. I am continually challenged to seek out the wide breath of the body of Christ, so that I might expand my embrace of prayer and Christian community.
Dr. James Puglisi is the Associate Director of Campus Ministry at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. He received his Bachelor of Arts (1984) from Allegheny College, Meadville, PA in Anthropology of Religions. He holds a Master of Arts in Higher Education (1996) from Geneva College, Beaver Falls, PA, and a Master of Arts in Applied Theology (2002) from Wheeling Jesuit University. He was awarded a Doctor of Ministry from Catholic Theological Union (2008) in the area of Practical Theology. His doctoral writing was titled “Shalom: The Role of Truth Telling in Creating Communities of Racial Reconciliation within Institutions of Christian Higher Education.” He is actively involved in interfaith and ecumenical work at St. Edward’s University and in the larger Austin Community. In addition to his work in campus ministry, he teaches courses in the cultural foundations curriculum in the area of migration, culture, and diversity. He has presented at conferences on racial reconciliation and inter-religious dialogue. He is originally from Pittsburgh, PA.