Time, that old constant that always seems to be shifting depending on your relationship to it at that moment. Activities can transcend it, and so can place and space.
In another life ago, I worked as a stagehand for a concert hall. That place had space, and it was filled with the collective essence and spiritual dog ends of all those that had played and worked there. Church has this, of course, and how; recently I have been privileged to have partaken in and participated with the divine liturgy at the Church of England’s beautiful St Oswald’s church in Oswestry, Shropshire. A good away game, and fabulous of the church to allow us entrance to do Orthodoxy. However, that is somehow by-the-by for me at the moment, because last time out I had a right moment with time itself, with it holding me, or else holding itself still; not some high-brow, high church space-time continuum stuff though, just the time stopping fear of seeing your priest approach you early into a liturgy, eyes locked on and already smiling.
There was a nod in my direct direction from Fr Panteleimon, my eyes connected with it and he took steps towards me, with each step time slowing until I could no longer hear the liturgy, just those steps and their distant echo. Listen. Each step, a tap… and then the soft dissipating echo followed by the next. They were calling to me because they were heading towards me. What were they coming for I did not know, even though I was trying to figure it out before it happened.
Had I parked the car poorly? Perhaps, but this was unlikely to be the time to bring it up. Did Father want to buy my car? Unlikely again, as he has a monster engined car of his own already. What if it wasn’t about the car? I was out of ideas already and not yet thinking enough to panic.
Then Father startled me by being right at my side. Time returned, sudden and vivid.
‘Good morning,’ he said, hushed, and as though he needed to get on. Maybe it was about the car. I made a response.
A great start from me and a slight, distinct smile from him which could have peeled back into a grin, followed by another dissolving moment of hushed-ness.
‘Can I ask you something?’ he asked then, his tone in pitch peach sympathy with the resonant sounds coming from Mike, our singer and my church godfather. Word up, Mike…!
‘I expect so.’
A grin then certainly from him.
‘We are a little short of hands today, John.’
I thought, my hands aren’t very short. My fingers are pretty long even, for the family. I reiterate that my thinking was less than comprehensive at the time.
‘Would you like to help serve?’ Father tried again and suddenly I wasn’t thinking about my hands, I was thinking, what was I about to go through? It was a sudden drawing close of all things a year since my chrismation, and my priest’s face which was now fraying at the strands that held it from becoming a full grin. The sort of expression that pulls you in and then fires you back out again sometime later with nothing left to do but calm down and go do some mowing for a client, wondering what just happened? What did I just witness at the altar, so close before my eyes…?
‘We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.’