Date: 10/7/11 and 10/14/2
Church name/type: St Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church
Format summary: As I remember it here are all the parts- choir music (in Greek), prayers from father, entrance with the big glitzy bible, readings, more prayer and choir responses, lots of words regarding the bread and wine, people file up to take bread and wine, more prayer and song by the choir, sermon and announcements.
Overall Impression: Half Greek to me!
Incredibly interesting and compelling. I have gone twice now and I’m sorely tempted to go twice more. I could spend a long time trying to understand all the parts of the divine liturgy on my own. I did fairly well with the Greek by following along in the book that sits in all the seat backs. It has spots for when to sit or stand, so each time we did that I found my place again. Also the choir sings ‘Kyrie Eleison’ about two or three dozen times which means ‘Lord have mercy’- another good means of keeping my spot. My Catholic background helped me out with the format. I recognized certain parts such as the Nicene Creed. And my choir days gave me bits of Greek.
The first thing I noticed was the atmosphere. The church is absolutely stunning inside. There are murals (called icons) covering the walls; painted with brilliant colors and glittering like gold in some spots. The choir is clearly restricted to one corner of the room, yet the acoustics make it sound as though music radiates from the walls and ceiling. I pictured angels hovering invisibly in every corner serenading us. Everyone was dressed in nice dressy clothes. This is the first church where I’ve found that perfectly natural as a side-effect of the fact this place feels really special, almost another world. I am a big fan of the whole ‘a church is not a building it’s people’ but I was strongly drawn to the beauty of St Sophia’s. I guess in part that shows my Catholic roots. Catholicism has a strong tendency toward quiet reverence and symbolism and beauty in many aspects of worship.
As I said it was not too difficult to follow along in a cursory way. I’d have to go a few more times to get in depth on all the parts. An aspect that was rather unexpected was the width of separation between the bible readings and the sermon. Readings come almost at the very beginning whereas the sermon was at the end. The sermons were in English (thank goodness!) and they were good, but probably made more sense to one in context of being a regular orthodox church attendee. The 7th was about fasting and taking communion. Apparently there is some history of tradition that communion be taken only three times a year. Father Pat advocated that we move closer to receiving the gifts every Sunday. I sat out communion at this church. I believe I was correct in doing so according to the internal rules. I did get to watch and it was another new thing to see. The people were served wine on a spoon (one spoon for everyone) then received a chunk of bread to eat at their seats. At the end of liturgy, the extra bread was handed out as a snack. This was not one of the gifts/body of Christ; I asked if I’d be allowed to eat it and was told to go ahead. I don’t know if that means it was somehow unblessed after the fact or was never blessed in the first place. Either way I understood that in Orthodoxy as in the Catholic church, they believe the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood.
I probably won’t be joining the Eastern Orthodox Church. I’d have to learn Greek or some other new language to get the most out of it. I’m not up for that based on my schedule these days. But it was kinda cool. Now I will have a bit of an easier time with the next Eastern Orthodox place whenever it comes up.
Daily history lesson: The Eastern Orthodox Church split from the Roman Catholic Church (or Rome split from them) in 1054 in what’s known as the East West Schism. Eastern Orthodox consider themselves the true church still following in the apostolic tradition. This makes the third church type I have visited that make this claim.