At Pascha this year, for the first time since leaving St. Vladimir's Seminary seven years ago, I decide to take a turn reading from the book of Acts for the Holy Saturday service at my present parish, a small mission in suburban Atlanta. By the time I extricate myself from home duties and get to church that evening, the reading has already begun. The person evidently in charge, a twenty-two year old convert in his subdeacon vestments, is presiding over a clot of minor clergy in black riasas talking together near the iconostasis.
I go over and quietly announce my intention. He looks as if I've just told him the parish hall has disappeared. "Is it okay for you to to read?" He looks so young, beneath his full beard and ponytail.
I explain that my husband, a deacon, has asked our priest about it and gotten his blessing. The subdeacon, still obviously nonplussed, gropes for reassurance. "When?" he presses.
I'm twice this man's age, I've been Orthodox three times longer, I've lived and worshipped at one of the preeminent Orthodox seminaries in the world, and he's double-checking me. "Today," I reply, smiling, after the split second pause it takes me to think these things.
After waiting about twenty minutes on a pew by the reader's stand, I realize that the teenaged boy who is reading doesn't know to give me a turn, so I stand up. Still no acknowledging move to the side to let me segue in. Finally I whisper, "Are you tired?" His eyes widen a bit. "Do you want to read?"
So I begin. I fall into the cadence easily as my voice glides over the text, but it takes a few moments to settle in and relax. The vocal training kicks in: posture - check, breathing - check. Why is it so quiet? The readers and subdeacons have ceased their sotto voce chitchat and, together with the handful of parishioners in the sanctuary, are really listening. Their sudden attention heightens the strangeness of the situation: How long has it been since this building's timbershave resonated with the sound of a woman reading Scripture? Ever?
I am aware of someone from the front of the church walking past me to the rear exit. Later I will hear that it was the young subdeacon retiring to the parish hall, where he will tell someone heading for the church, "You don't want to go in there right now."
I stumble over a strange name but forge ahead, steady now, diving into the narrative, seeing the action as the Apostles preach the Gospel, refute heresy, quarrel among themselves, set out on journeys. It's exhilerating to be exercising this long-dormant gift, to be doing something in church besides wrangling children. The walls, which at first swayed slightly at the deviation, now seem to be swelling with joy. Or maybe that's me.