MANATEE -- With all of the art and beauty of their faith, the congregation of Saint Mark Orthodox Christian Church this week celebrated Ascension Thursday with incense and music. It is one of top three most celebrated days in their religious calendar.
Saint Mark Church was begun as an Orthodox mission of the Diocese of the South in 1979, developing into a parish church in 1998. It is currently completing its new campus at 1517 Morgan Johnson Road, Bradenton, and serves about 100 participants during the winter season.
"Ascension Thursday always comes 40 days after the Feast of the Resurrection. The three feasts are tied together," said the Very Rev. Dr. Stephen Plumlee.
The third is Pascha, or Easter.
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"To the faithful Orthodox Christian, the fact that his life has been given to him eternally by his offering of himself to Christ means it is to be a life risen with Christ into the fellowship of God," Plumless said.
Plumlee, who moved here for his late wife's health, also works as a psychotherapist specializing in the Imago method.
"If you came to the Pascal service, you would see that that is by far the richest and most powerful worship experience of the Orthodox life. How the life of prayer and the fellowship of the whole communion work -- it shaped my marriage, it shaped my understanding of who I am and it informed my work in psychotherapy."
Most psychotherapists operate on the premise that the main goal of their work is to help clients achieve what they want in their lives. "That comes into play, but in a secondary way, when I'm working with people, unless they come to me as Orthodox Christians, most come wanting help with repressed thought or programming," he said.
"I always have in mind people live solely for being enabled to do what they want to do. If that's the case, they're already on a self-de
Instead, the priest said, "We as human beings are endowed with that capacity for love. That love is more than an emotional estate. It's a verb. It's how we behave, so that means getting out of the process of focusing 100 percent on myself and ascending myself as a behavior for helping to provide the healing needs of my spouse, if I have one, or my children; to help other people."
At the Ascension service, Plumlee brought those examples into concrete and physical terms.
"I talked about the fact that Jesus met with his disciples as he led them out of the city of Jerusalem up to the village of Bethany, up into the mountains and there he blessed them. He told them to return to Jerusalem and then ascended," he said. "So each event that we participate in reflects the previous one. The Ascension takes place because of the Resurrection and the Pentecost is the one that is coming next."
The Orthodox Church in America traces its roots to 1794 with the arrival of Orthodox missionaries in Kodiak, Alaska. Today it embodies about 700 parishes, missions and institutions throughout the United States, Mexico and Canada, according to the Rev. John Matusiak, senior editor of the Orthodox Church of America website.
Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be reached at 7480-0411, ext. 7024, or tweet at DeeGrahamBH.