Service of the Passion (Twelve Gospels)- Greek Orthodox Church

So this is going to be interesting to write. I want to walk the line of being respectful to the traditions of the Greek Church and actually going through how I felt during the service.

So I went to the church after work and I was one of the first people in the nave (chapel or sanctuary would be the relevant Low Church term). I got to watch as folks came in to sit down. Some of them went to the front of the nave and sort of bowed in front of each of six icons (pictures) on the front wall. I see after some research this wall is called an Iconostasis and separates the Nave from the Sanctuary (different from Low Church sanctuary). Some bowed, touched the floor, and crossed their chest three times at the middle four icons, then only once for the outer two. After the bowing and crossing, they kissed the icon. Some only bowed and crossed once prior to kissing the icon. This was very interesting to see.

So at exactly 7pm, the service starts. It starts without introductions of any kind. Two men just started with chanting and I am virtually certain they were chanting in Greek. I had no idea what they were doing. I wouldn’t find out for about an hour and a half, but there were books in the foyer (Narthex if we’re being technical) that lays out the service word for word. VERY High Church tradition. So they chant for a little while longer, read some Psalms which were numbered in the book, but they didn’t announce which Psalms they were reading. After a fair amount of singing/chanting in Greek and English, I start to hear bells.

Once again, I have no idea what is going on. After 30 seconds or so, the Priest (I think he was the Priest, certainly a clergyman) comes out from the Sanctuary carrying an incense burner. I don’t know what this was called. It was handheld and looked something like a small kettle. So he walks all around the nave with this and goes back into the Sanctuary. He then opens some doors in the center of the Iconostasis, called Beautiful Gates, and sets up a podium. He begins the first Gospel reading, I wish I had a copy of the book that we all used, there was something very specific that he said prior to every Gospel reading. I remember part of it was “let us be attentive.”

The first Gospel reading was quite long, being the better part of four chapters in the Gospel of John. He finishes this reading and the folks in the choirs, two men on one side of the Iconostasis and one on the other, start reading and chanting again, in Greek and English. After they have started the chants, one of the men who had been standing on either side of the podium lights one of twelve candles that are in front of the Iconostasis. There were twelve, seemingly for the twelve Gospel readings, but I am not sure of the significance. This procedure, minus the incense, went on for the next 4 readings. After the fifth reading, however, something different happened. The priest came out again with the incense and walked around the Nave. After going back into the Sanctuary, he and others begin a procession out. There were two of the candle bearers in front carrying fans, a man behind them walking in reverse carrying a thurible, a chained incense burner, behind him is the priest who had been doing the readings carrying a large cross (about 7-8 feet tall) with the image of Jesus Christ nailed on it, behind him was an older man in a different set of ecclesiastical vestments.  They walk around the entire nave as we all kneel on kneelers behind the pews and then place the cross in the center of the church in front of the Iconostasis and Beautiful Gates.

After this, we started with more Gospel readings and each of these took place in the same manner as before. Priest would read, candle would be lit, choirs would begin chanting other parts of the service. It should be noted, I forgot to mention this earlier, that the priest chants/sings the entire Gospel reading each time. Very, very interesting. Eventually, the Twelve Gospels were read to the congregation and the service was concluded with a liturgically defined prayer.

So, what did I learn? Well, this service was three hours long, first. There was no preaching of any kind. It was simply High Church readings of the Gospels with various interludes. The Gospels told the story of the last day of Christ. From the Last Supper, to His trial, to the cross, and finally to being placed in the tomb. The manner of service was quite unnerving at first because I lacked a liturgical book to follow along with the service. While this was certainly different, it was indeed spiritual. I honestly don’t know the symbolism of everything that went on. Once I had a book to read from and follow along, it became easier to follow. I’d actually like to get a copy of one and read it over again. Being from a church that is effectively a Low Church tradition, this was a very unique service. One day I may go back and try to sit through a more routine service. But overall, I had an enjoyable, if quite befuddling, evening.

Advertisements

WrestleMania and Theology

This was a very unique week. Strangely, I think I found a great deal of spiritual knowledge and development in professional wrestling this week. My best friend Eric and I traveled to New Orleans this weekend for WrestleMania and all the events the surround that. Saturday night was the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony. There were two very big stories with this that I believe can have theological meaning.

The first is a story of reaching out to someone and that someone coming back from a terrible situation. The second person to come out during the ceremony goes by the name of Jake Roberts, though that is not his real name. He goes through a reasonably brief chronicle of his life, talking about how he was unfaithful to every woman he ever knew, except for a wrestling ring which he compared to a lady, and that once he lost the physical ability to compete in wrestling, he turned to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain of not being able to compete. He also said that he was often jealous of some of his friends who had died before him and often asked God why he was still here when all he wanted to do was die. He said that he didn’t want to commit suicide because of the additional pain it would cause his children. But through all this, a good friend of his reached out to him, helped him get back on track, and really recreate his life. He’s made amends with all of his children and the rest of the people he hurt over the years. Not to go too far in comparing Jake’s friend to Jesus Christ, but that really is something of an indication of how far Christ will reach for us. We are never too far gone down a path of self-destruction for God’s love to be available to us. It is always there and will always be there. This was a man who was determined to end his own life and be done with it all, but a friend reached out to him and quite literally saved him. That’s Christ, always there. But even closer to home, how much can I do personally to help someone who is in need? Well, given the situation, I don’t see why I couldn’t be just as much help to someone as Jake’s friend was to him. In fact, I strongly suspect that would be the Christ-like thing to do.

The last speaker at the Hall of Fame spoke a lot about forgiveness. His wrestling name is Ultimate Warrior and he legally changed his name to Warrior; this has become something of a running joke among fans. Warrior went into the Hall of Fame this year after basically not speaking to WWE leadership since about 1996. Warrior had several disputes with them over the years and one of the worst came when WWE produced a DVD about his career that was basically 2 hours of other wrestlers badmouthing him on camera. He came back with some fairly terse rebuttals. All in all Warrior was generally not well regarded for several years. However, late last year, that changed. Both sides came together, mended their past difficulties, and determined that Warrior would go into the Hall this year. Theologically, this is a good example that we should forgive each other of wrong doings and that we will never be satisfied if we are seeking vengeance against another. If we are unable to forgive others and move on from the situation, we will never have closure on that particular situation. Sometimes forgiveness is difficult, but it is almost always possible. Secondly, if we seek vengeance, there will never be satisfaction. I think that vengeance is something that we will never find enough of. We will continually seek it until it consumes us.

Finally, something that doesn’t have a happy ending. Three days after Warrior was inducted to the Hall of Fame he died. We really aren’t guaranteed anything. Not the rest of today, not tomorrow. All these theological teachings that float around, do I follow them? Do I live in such a way that dying tomorrow would be no problem? Can I do better? Nothing is promised to us on Earth. I sometimes forget that.

Strangely (or likely not) the reading this week in my Intro to Theology course was on salvation. What is salvation to us? What does it mean? To me, salvation is not about getting a big mansion on the big side of Heaven. Salvation, to me, is about taking on the name and mission of Jesus Christ and helping others, just as Christ did. I can be the person who reaches out to a friend who is in dire need of help. I can be the one who forgives even when it doesn’t seem like forgiveness is deserved. Theological lessons can come from many places, some of them quite unexpected. Certainly professional wrestling is an unexpected a place as one might ever find. But this week, I found a lot of spirituality in professional wrestling.