Sunday, August 21, 2005

Cross one more off the list

If you've read this blog you know that I've visited a lot of churches. I haven't even told the story of some of them, just the ones I was involved with for any length of time. When I engage people in discussions about the churches I've been to I like to say that I've been to every kind of church except Orthodox and snake-handling.

This morning I crossed one of those off the list.

The snake handlers of Lorain County meet on a farm in Vermilion, far from prying eyes (and unfortunately for them, far from proper medical facilities)... ah, just kidding :) It was my privilege to attend liturgy at St. Innocent Orthodox Church in Olmsted Falls, part of the Orthodox Church of America. My friend Jennifer is a catechumen there (catechumen being the first stage in the membership process), and has seen a good portion of my journey, having been a friend of mine for the past 17 years. It was her inquiry into why I joined this or that church which began a series of e-mails that morphed into this blog.
Knowing that searching has taken up a good portion of my spiritual life, she invited me to attend a new church she discovered. She waxed eloquently about worship in the Orthodox church and how it was radically different from anything that I had seen before. Isn't that what they all say? Every church is different- that's part of their marketing strategy. In this case, though, Orthodoxy is different; at least, compared to most Protestant and post-Vatican II Catholic churches.

The first thing I noticed was the smell. Yes, the smell. Incense plays a big part in the liturgy, and the smell of incense in any church setting send my thoughts to the past. I began to think of my altar boy days, of Easter Vigil masses that never seemed to end, of the monks of the Abbey of Our Lady of Genessee in New York. Incense=worship. Real worship that sends my thoughts skyward and inward in one fell swoop, not the kind of worship that makes me wonder how many "la-la-las" can possibly be jammed into a 4/4 chorus, not the kind of praise that makes me wonder when the pom-pom girls are going to do the pyramid.

The structure of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is not that different from any Catholic Mass I've ever been to. Liturgy of the Word, liturgy of the Eucharist, sign of peace- different names, same activity. But the structure is where the similarity ends. Sorry, post-Vatican II Catholic Church in America, but the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom kicks your... oops, probably not appropriate to use that phrase in the discussion of liturgy :) The closest point of comparison I have is the Tridentine Mass, which was celebrated in the Catholic Church from the beginning of time until Vatican II made all kinds of wacky changes. The Orthodox liturgy is in English, the Tridentine in Latin, but that same sense of being a part of something much greater than yourself is present in both.
The choir was absolutely magnificent. The way the choir chanted the different parts of the liturgy... oh man, I can't even describe it. Fantastic.
Beyond that I can't really dissect the different parts of the liturgy, there's just too much there. The standing and sitting confused me, especially when one half of the church stood and one half sat. The Kiss of Peace threw me for a loop when people actually started giving each other kisses on the cheek, sometimes thrice. Kissing takes place constantly. You kiss the icons, you kiss a crucifix (in two places), you kiss the icons some more, you kiss the icons even more. Quite a bit of kissing and signs of the cross (up-down-right-left, not left-right), and the constant motion threatened to make me dizzy. At a certain point I gave up trying to keep up and just let the experience wash over me.
Communion is served to people via spoons. Hmm, OK. I understand that it is probably a means to emphasize the holiness of what is happening, that you are receiving the Body of Christ and not just a snack, but if that's not it then I don't get it. And after Communion there were tables on each side where people took a piece of bread and a drink in a Dixie cup. That was explained to me later, but at the time I thought that the introduction of Dixie cups into a world of kissing, robes and incense was distracting.

Overall it was a positive experience. I am sure I will do it again someday. (Jennifer is right now dancing a jig.) And since my passion in life is to see how people worship, what people do in response to God, how people answer the God question, this is something I had to do.

Now, on to the snake handlers....


Blogger Jen said...

"Different"? Did I really say "different"?

Well, maybe I did. But I've been deliberately avoiding a hard sell.

I think my refrain was (more or less, give or take), "You gotta come to this church." Or as the Orthodox say (much more eloquently than I): Come and see.

I think there's a lot of other buried treasure there for you there, based on some of the things we have discussed and you have blogged.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Cindy said...

I am a parishioner at St. Innocent and have been Orthodox since birth. Your comment on the Dixie cups made me roar with laughter! I remember when we started using them vs. plain plastic cups for cost sake and couldn't get past consuming blessed wine to fully consume the Eucharist from a cup that I use in my bathroom! Now, I make sure I don't buy the same print:)

Seriously, when you go to the monastery, the blessed wine is in a single gold goblet that all sip from. I once asked Fr. Daniel why we partake of the bread and wine (it's not a practice in all parishes depending on ethnicity) and he said, "well, after coming into contact with Christ in the Eucharist, it seems fitting to break your fast with something simple and blessed rather than McDonalds!"

Sean, you need not search any longer. YOu can spend the rest of your living days on this earth searching Orthodoxy and never exhaust the immeasurable joys, mysteries, and love residing there. I hope to see you again, and thanks for the perspective! I enjoyed it.

10:32 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

One of the most striking aspects of Orthodoxy and St. Innocent in particular that earned my trust and conviction is the sense of timelessness and diversity. Like you and the incense and music, something very ancient and unchanging (in a positive view of consistancy) is happening here. As for diversity, (not the PC nonsense that is passive-aggressive whining) the faces, names, traditions and cultural backgrounds are boundless in Orthodoxy and moreso in the OCA and in St. Innocent, the local melting pot. It is truly an American representation with respect to all traditions. Knowing that Patrick is mentioned in EVERY Vespers service (Russian, Greek Serb, whatever) is called "Equal to the Apositles, Holy Confessor and Enlightener of Ireland" allowed me to feel right at home. Now there was a snake handler.

I am told that in the "old country" there are no chairs or benches to sit on. In fact only in some countries there are a few "arm rest cubbies" scattered along the back walls. Most are reserved for the very infirmed. However, in my journies to various Orthodox churches and monasteries, even the babas, yayas, starets and papous STAND and are attentive, bow and prostrate themselves in clear devotion seemly regardless of possible pain. Appearently the pain upon their soul is of greater concern than one upon the knees. We all should live so long to learn so much.

2:13 PM  

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