11 Years And I'm Still Fearful
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11 Years And I'm Still Fearful

A reflection on the life of an acolyte.

11 Years And I'm Still Fearful
FYC Qurbana

Recently I was attending a Holy Qurbana (Holy Communion) and I stood outside the altar — primarily because I was coming from work and hadn’t showered, so I didn’t want to put on my vestments on an unclean body. But as I stood outside, I was observing the altar servants currently inside and their actions. They were much younger and therefore more naïve. They weren’t all attentive to every minute detail, but they had the enthusiasm to get the tasks done as instructed. But watching them made me think of my life as an altar servant or acolyte, which is the appropriate noun for an individual assisting a celebrant in a religious service. I started glimpsing through my life and journey that I have taken as an acolyte.

I was brought into the altar when I started the seventh grade. As of now, I’ve been serving for almost 11 years. Within those years I’ve had many a times come across defining moments of my calling to serve. Seventh grade academics is key for almost every high school in the United States and so parents push their middle schoolers to perform well and study hard to be outstanding.

While my friends’ parents pushed them to participate in the science fair and become a member of the mathletes, my parents did none of those things. Instead, I attended every evening prayer, every Holy Qurbana, every sacrament, anything and everything our parish vicar (priest) needed assistance with. And it continued on, not only through middle school but even high school.

I attended baptisms of kids I didn’t even know, I assisted my priest in weddings for couples I’ve never met, and the list goes on. I made connections and bonds with many other priests and even bishops all across the country. And then soon as I got my cell phone in high school, the classic Motorola Razr, I understand what the phrase “on-call” meant. Rev. Fr. M. K. Kuriakose would call around 4 p.m. on any given day, “Renju, are you free? There is a house warming of a new church member”, and that would be my cue to get ready and wait for pick up.

And that was my life. From the two years of middle school to the four years of high school. Six years I spent serving the altar, serving the priest, serving the church. Now, the amount of years I spent doing this or what I did is not what I wanted to highlight, but how I did it. For those six years I basically studied the logistics behind every act, every sacrament, every prayer. I learned the tunes and tones of the church. I understood the rubrics for each festival, every sacrament, and all services. I memorized the prayers and readings for them all. And it became a process to a point at which I had become a robot bound to service.

As college started my free time to attend every service that my priest needed me to assist in was limited. But that hadn’t hindered me from coming to service every Sunday. I came and I entered and I still did what I learned to do best. And as I continued my journey through college, I started to question if the altar was really about just learning what to do and how to do it. It was at this time that Very Rev. Dr. John Behr was the guest speaker of the University of Pennsylvania’s Orthodoxy Week. He was talking about obtaining the crown as a Christian and he quoted one of his books and said: “[We] ourselves bear witness to a life that comes through death, a life that can no longer be touched by death, a life that comes by taking up the cross.”

Very Rev. Dr. Behr explained, “Our baptism brought us to this life, Eucharist made this life immortal from death, and our service is what defines our cross.” And that last part struck me really hard. My service defines my cross. What do I serve, how do I serve and why do I serve?

I feel most acolytes never really understand half of that which is going on and it’s more of just making sure the “wheel spins.” Yes, it’s good to know when and what to do at the proper services, but also understand the why. Understand what the role of a servant is.

When I first started, I figured it was just a job on Sundays and that was it. No, it is a life long commitment. Recently, I was speaking to a good friend and spiritual guide, Rev. Dn. Daniel Mathai and told him how I never thought I’d be worthy to enter the altar or wear this vestment. Growing up, I always thought it was meant for the really well-behaved Sunday School kids. But Dn. Dennis said, “No one is worthy, none of us. But it is God who makes us worthy.” And that really is the truest statement. None of us that are acolytes now or soon to be acolytes are ever worthy of entering that sacred place. It is God’s power and will that makes us worthy. It is a blessing that is entrusted to us.

There is a hymn that is sung on the feast of the Koodosh Etho (Sanctification of the Church) that is one describes in essence what the altar is. The verse in Malayalam, the native tongue, goes:

“Theeyallo ee madbhaha, thee thane-poojayithum
Theeyithina chuttunnu, theeykkuthanna paricharippoo.”

Which in English reads:

“This altar is fire, the fire is what we worship. Fire engulfs this throne, we serve this fire”.

And when I look back on all that I’ve learned and memorized, I can’t help but be fearful. Fearful of the fire that I’ve been stepping in for so many years like a robot. I moved from task to task without actually understanding who I served, what I served. Dn. Dennis went on to tell me that when we enter, we should enter with fear, but serve with joy. Fearful of the place in which we are standing but joyful of the presence in which we are serving.

So, to my fellow acolytes and future acolytes, if you ask what the altar means to me, I will say I am fearful. I am fearful because I serve in a fiery place, which defines my cross. I am fearful because of the fire. But that fire can do two things: the fire from the throne can either destroy or it can mold you. It can destroy and leave no trace. Or the fire can mold you into His will. I don’t know what God has in store for my life and my future but I know He has been molding me in His fire. And I pray he continues to mold me so that my cross defines my service to Him.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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