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Time with the Holy Angels

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As I type, I’m at the San Diego Airport, waiting to fly back to New York City. I just completed spending about 72 hours among the angels—actually, with the people of Holy Angels Byzantine Catholic Church.

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Words can’t quite do justice to the spirit, atmosphere and transporting loveliness of the Byzantine liturgy.

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Among other things, I got to see something new to me: an infant receiving the Eucharist. In the Eastern church, Communion and Confirmation (or Chrismation) generally occur at the same time as Baptism.

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Suffice it to say that everything from the music (near-continuous chanting) to the church itself and the ebullient pastor, Father Brian Escobedo made for a warm and wonderful visit.

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Fr. Brian, like many of those I met, was born and raised Roman Catholic, but felt the “call of the East.” He was ordained a deacon for the Byzantine church and, about two years ago, was ordained a priest.

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Fr. Brian invited me to serve at the Divine Liturgy but, being clueless and completely untrained in the Divine Liturgy, I declined. I simply preached. I think that was the safer course for all concerned.

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After the 9 a.m. Divine Liturgy Sunday morning, I got to meet the wonderfully talented woman who created the church’s colorful icons, Mila Mina, now 88-years-young. She’s renowned around the world for her rich iconography. When my colleague Deb Stonitsch from CNEWA told her “You must be so proud of this,” Mila replied, jokingly, “All I can see is what I did wrong.”

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A little later, I gave a talk in the church hall downstairs to about 60 or so people on the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, and what CNEWA is doing to help.

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The response was enthusiastic and engaged—and, for me, very gratifying.

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On Saturday, Deb presented Fr. Brian with a drawing of St. Francis created in Jordan by a young Syrian boy as part of the art therapy program supported by CNEWA.

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Oh: and I have to mention the wind beneath Fr. Brian’s wings: his delightful wife, Janet. Fr. Brian is a one-man band—we saw him doing everything, from putting envelopes in the pews to celebrating the Liturgy to setting up tables and chairs in the social hall (and lugging around cables for the sound system until he found the right one to use). He never stops. I don’t know how Janet keeps up with him.

Part of his energy, I’m sure, comes from his relentlessly joyful spirit. He never stops smiling and loves to laugh. How can you not love a priest like that?

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All in all, a great weekend. Thank you, Holy Angels, for making my first Byzantine experience so memorable—and, even, angelic! I hope one day to come back.

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