By Loretta Fulton
“Blessed is our God always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.”
Thus began the “First Royal Hour of the Theophany Friday, Jan. 5, at St. Luke Orthodox Church, or “St. Luke Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church,” as the sign at 501 Sunset Drive says.
Father Philip LeMasters, priest at the church, opened the ancient ceremony by walking to and fro, chanting and swinging a thurible, a metal censer suspended from chains that is used to burn incense during a worship service.
“Glory to thee, O God, glory to Thee,” he chanted as he walked.
His chants were followed by readings or responses from two chanters, Linda Fowler and Rick Dunbar.
“Come, let us worship and fall down before God our King, Come, let us worship and fall down before Christ, our King and our God, Come, let us worship and fall down before Christ Himself, our King and our God,” Fowler and Dunbar chanted in one response.
Fowler, whose lyrical voice adds another dimension to the worship experience, also is an icon writer. She is working on a large icon to place behind the altar. Before moving to Abilene, Fowler lived in Beaumont and was choir director in the Orthodox Church there for 20 year. She has been the chanter at St. Luke the past 10 years.
The entire service covered all 26 of the Royal Hours, with continual readings and chants, all beautifully done by the three participants.
Western Christians are familiar with the Jan. 6 Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas which celebrates the three kings or wise men following a star to the baby Jesus. The word means “manifestation” and celebrates the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. The Greek “theophany” has the same meaning.
Step inside the small white church on Sunset Drive and enter a different world. It is calm and reverent. Icons cover the walls. Candles add a calmness. Incense evokes reverence and set the tone for the rich liturgical worship.
The church is small in numbers but brings a different kind of worship to Abilene, with its mystical theology and spiritual disciplines.
LeMasters, priest at the church, is a religion professor at McMurry University. He is a member of the board of trustees of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, New York, and has served on the board of directors of the Southwest Commission on Religious Studies.
LeMasters has written numerous books and scholarly papers which he presents as conferences. He is a scholar of Christian ethics, primarily within Eastern Orthodoxy. LeMaster’s sixth book, “The Forgotten Faith: Ancient Insights for Contemporary Believers from Eastern Christianity,” was published in 2013.
To learn more about St. Luke, including service times, go to www.stlukeorthodox.net