Church name/type: St George church, Antiochian Orthodox (liturgy in English)
Pastor: Father Gregory-Francis Des Marais
Style of worship: The liturgy was a unique mix of formal and casual, which I will describe more below.
Overall Impression: Really interesting
So this is only my second Eastern Orthodox church, and I am still unsure of myself regarding the denomination. I was nervous to stand at the wrong time or insult their traditions somehow. But this place weirdly did NOT meet my expectations for formality. Any Eastern Orthodox Church has a number of formal elements in their service (which is called Divine Liturgy)- however this one seemed to have an added later of casual in the mix. People wore jeans. They trickled in late to very late without anyone acting like it was odd. In many churches, the parent of a noisy child will feel the need to practically run out the door with their kid to assure comparative silence in the church itself. Someone had an unhappy kid and she was simply walked out slowly. So the casual vibe was nice.
The church is very small and box shaped. I was among the first to arrive, but because Matins precedes Liturgy by about an hour, there was some chanting in progress. Because of this constant goings-on, Orthodox Christians don’t have that chatty time where people welcome you seeing you are new. I think that’s ok if one can know to expect it. I didn’t have a prayer book or guide to follow along, but the entire thing was in English with the exception of “Kyrie Eleison” which is two words, so you know…go English!
The homily was about the church season and this Sunday. For most Western Christians, Lent started several weeks ago. For Orthodox Christians it has just started and its called Great Lent. One week previous to Sunday was the call for fasting of meat. This Sunday starts the fasting of cheese and dairy. This Sunday is called CheeseFare Sunday. So now until Easter (Orthodox Easter is May 4th) many in the Orthodox Church will eat only veggies. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, a fast is not considered a mandate, with sin as penalty for skipping it. Part of the sermon reflected on Matthew’s account of the words of Jesus on the topic of fasting. Jesus said when we fast we ought to not look sad, because that’s something Pharisees do to make themselves look holy. Fasting should be none of anyone else’s business; it’s between us and God. We were also reminded that fasting has to have actual meaning to us beyond just declining certain foods, or else it becomes an empty gesture. St Basil called an empty fast the “devil’s fast”. Furthermore, as I pointed out just one post ago, we should not let the money savings from fasting go to waste. Take whatever money you saved by avoiding meat and dairy and donate it to a food bank. I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear this point made in the homily. I hope it gets made a bunch more times in a bunch more churches.
So, near the end of the liturgy was communion. Being unsure, I didn’t go up for this. Somebody did bring me a piece of bread though. I ate it because I figured it would be rude not to. Also I figured they’d know best if I was allowed to have it or not. I’ve since learned that the bread I ate most likely wasn’t the body but plain bread that is to be shared in friendship with anybody, so I would be perfectly allowed to eat it.
Afterwards I was invited by the priest to get some coffee in the adjoining hall. I settled for juice. One man talked to me and asked my name but no one else really did. Many people in this church spoke a second (probably their first) language so maybe they were hesitant to converse with me in English. I waited around for the priest and wound up talking to him for like an hour about Orthodoxy. He was really able to give me some great info on differences between the East and West- that is the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. He has a Catholic background as I do, and this kinda made it that much easier to describe things to me.
For example, the leader of the Orthodox Church is called the Patriarch of Constantinople. He is the lead patriarch among a bunch of patriarchs. This differs from the lead bishop of the Western churches who goes by the title Pope, because the Pope is seen as being on a level above other bishops.
Another thing we talked about was the circumstances leading up to the East/West schism- this of course being the first splitting of the early church into Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. There were a few reasons for the split and one of them was the Filioque. It translates to and the Son. So, the early Christian churches had conferences called councils every now and then to decide doctrine or fix canon or agree to call someone a heretic or whatever. There was a big inclusive one at Nicea at which the bishops wrote out The Creed. Many refer to it as The Nicean Creed. It is a statement of believe that starts out:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…
Then there’s this one spot about the Holy Spirit:
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son…
This last little bit, and the Son, was not added until later. It was added by a relatively exclusive council- far fewer bishops were in attendance and I think possibly none from the East were there. This led the Eastern churches to suspect Filioque was snuck in for nefarious purposes, (back in the day, heresy was a nefarious purpose) and they made a big deal out of it. Eventually the church became divided into a Western half led by a Pope and an Eastern half led by a Patriarch. The official split date is 1054, but it was actually dragged out over centuries. I have trouble imagining a bunch of dudes getting all riled up about whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son or not. Then again, in some ways this was a theological excuse for a political move. Anyway I’m getting more knowledgeable about church history and that’s exciting.
Question: Whats up with the icon of Mary drawn surrounded by a red pepper? Or maybe it’s a red picnic blanket? This icon was at both Orthodox churches on my list so far.
Link: Someone stopped at my post on St Sophia’s to post this link. I thought you might enjoy it.
12 Things About Orthodoxy