Friday, August 19, 2011
seventy-fifth visit: Aug 15th 2011 Eastern Catholic Orthodoxy (Dormition of the Mother of God)
Holy Ghost Byzantine Church
(Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God)
225 Olivia St, McKees Rocks PA 15136
In the same way that the High Holy Days did not feel complete unless I attended Yom Kippur services, my 68th and 69th visits would not feel complete unless I attended Mass on this day, the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God. The day that Mary's great sleep (death) is observed. This day is also known as the Assumption of Mary.
Holy Ghost Byzantine was recommended to me by, Lynn, a member of Door of Hope (21st visit); she attended this church while growing up. "Go there," she said. "It's beautiful."
I go. It is.
During the sermon, I notice that the chandelier (400 pounds-worth) is slowly, but undeniably spinning. I am tired. But I am sure of this.
After services, on her way out, Helen introduces herself and comments on my dress. I explain. "Oh, can I take a minute to look and see?" She asks about some of the different additions. She tells me about an annual Eastern Orthodox pilgrimage that takes place in Uniontown, an hour-and-a-half's drive away, every Labor Day weekend. (I look it up when I get home: one of the largest in North America. Have I mentioned that I would not have as much reason do this project in any other part of the US?) She offers to take me there next time she makes a trip. Says there's a Catholic gift shop the size of a supermarket. She encourages me to say hello to Father Firko, before he leaves the sactuary. "He's always very busy and is sure to slip away any minute, but I'm sure he wants to meet you."
I do. Busy or not, he offers a memorable conversation. Very much in the spirit of gatherings.
About icon painters: they fasted and meditated while working, as their work is considered to be manifestations of messages from the Spirit. And what they do is actually referred to (by church officials) as writing, not painting. (Maybe alluding to the idea of message-communication? Or to the fact that images in churches served as teachings for those who could not read? Or simply the fact that visual art is a language in itself?)
We talk about carry-over from Judaism to Orthodoxy and Catholicism. "You see, the intent was not to destroy the previously-established religion," he says. Elements were carried over, adopted by and preserved in the new faith, the earliest forms of Christianity. This includes the architecture of the sanctuary: a screen separates the large, common space from the space where the most holy objects are kept, echoing the structure of Jewish synagogues at the time. And in this designated space: an Ark in synagogues, here the Tabernacle; a staff in both (Aaron's, which blossomed); even the Eucharist, kept behind the screen, offers metaphorical reference to Judaism.
So often I witness such negative emotions when others have spoken of this phenomenon. Or they simply deny it, emphasizing differences. Why do some see this sharing as bad?
Prompted by the painted murals that surround us, so many winged creatures, we talk about the hierarchy of angels: Seraphims, Cherabims and Archangels. Messengers. All invisible in normal circumstances, but believed to be present in a sanctuary during worship. And to frolic in the chandelier, perhaps?