Perplexed and a little bit confused, I walked through the gates of the St. Nicholas Eastern Orthodox Church. Since this was the first time I was attending this kind of service, all I could notice were the apparent differences merited by this place of worship. As I made my way through to the entrance, a young woman walked to me and greeted me with a broad smile, helped me sign a guest book and walked me into their equivalent of a chapel, which they call the Sanctuary. As we walked together through the lobby, right outside the main sanctuary, I noticed beautiful Byzantine-like paintings of various saints that I had trouble recognizing. As awkward as this could seem to me, I was shocked when the female guide I was with suddenly leaned over and lightly kissed the portrait that I had recognized as I walked into the lobby.
At this moment, I was beginning to get mesmerized by the events happening at this place, and she walked me to a section of the sanctuary where candles were lit and asked whether I was willing to light mine. Upon lighting a candle, I observed that there was a little basket where people tossed some dollars after lighting the candles. I also followed suite and dropped a dollar inside. My guide led me into the on-going service deep inside the Sanctuary which was a vast white walled open space whose beautiful termination culminated into a beautiful mosaic of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus with two angles by their sides. In this very broad Sanctuary and among a handful of congregants, I felt really small and this evoked in in me a sense of reverence which I found to be humbling. My eyes too were overwhelmed by the beautiful frescos that hang from wall to wall alongside the alluring lighting which came from an enormous chandelier which gracefully hung from a massive dome in the ceiling. My nose, on the other hand, was inundated by the strong smell of incense whose smoke almost clouded the room. As if this was not enough, my ears too were filled with lots of chanting in Greek that came from two or three chanters who were positioned at a particular space in the sanctuary.
At Sermon time, the Bishop stood at the podium, and I was shocked to realize that the congregation did not wait for the reading but instead they sang it in unison. When this portion of the sermon was complete, I realized that it was time for the congregation to rise and partake the Holy Communion. At this juncture, I was not sure whether I was ready to be part of this ritual. I sat rooted in my seat and observed the Bishop scoop a liquid that was in a chalice with a spoon and gave it to the congregants, who by this time stood close to the altar. Large chunks of bread were held in a basket by yet another priest that people picked from.
It was now time for the bishop to bless and dismiss the congregation and people walked out leisurely through the set of thick heavy doors, and this marked my very first attendance of an Eastern Orthodox Service.
While attending the Eastern Orthodox service, I got the chance to learn quite a number of things. For instance, I learned that the Orthodox faithfuls make the sign of the cross every time the Trinity is evoked and also on literary every occasion during the course of their Liturgy. Additionally, unlike in the usual Christian Faith, in Eastern Orthodox, the priest is perceived as the spiritual father who has obliged the role to continue St. Pauls earthly ministry that was brought to the people. Partaking the Holy Communion which is a ritual that is also observed in Christianity is one of the elements of this particular service that can be incorporated into the Christianity. Moreover, concerning spiritual warfare, as a first visitor in this service, this is not a thing that I experienced but rather, what I felt on the inside was a humbling experience that evoked in me a feeling of reverence.
In a single world, I would term my first experience at the Eastern Orthodox service as Perplexing. Almost every element of the service is perplexing, ranging from the 'uncontrollable' chanting in the Greek Language to the too much commotion at the beginning of the service. Nevertheless, the crossing of self and kissing of portraits and objects in the Sanctuary evoked the question whether these people worship these objects as idols. This lingering question is definitely one that I will follow up to clear my doubts about the sense of idol worship in the Eastern Orthodox Faith.
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