Monday, August 1, 2011
sixty-ninth visit: Aug 6th 2011 Antiochian Orthodox, Arabic service
St George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral (Syrian)
Arabic Orthros (9:30) and Arabic Liturgy (10:30)
3400 Dawson St, Pittsburgh PA 15213
Speaking with Father John Abdalah by phone last week, he says I am more than welcome, but (pause) the service will be in Arabic. Exactly why I chose it. For me, it's not necessarily always about exactly what is spoken. It's about being there. And it's actually easier to experience "presence" when I'm not caught up in semantics.
This has never happened before:
I arrive 10 minutes into the service, and am the sole worshiper amongst the pews. Solitariness does not bother me and I am glad to offer the chanters an audience, but I am definitely conscious of the fact that I cannot take cues from other worshipers, as far as confirmation that I am behaving reverently, sitting and standing when I should, joining prayer, etc. A half-hour later others join. And yet more join for Liturgy at 10:30.
This is at least the third time in gatherings that the icon painter, Andrei Rublev, comes to mind; to avoid tiresome repetition, I hesitate to mention, but here is the strongest yet. It was in March or so that a student turned me on to Tarchovsky's film and the impression is apparently lasting. I don't think I had previously fully appreciated the beauty of Greek and Russion-influenced iconography, but ever since, I am quite taken. (Thank you, A.B.) Thus, this roomful of such is quite a treat. Gorgeous. Red with green and teals. No chroma shyness here. Between icons and painted saints, red and green surfaces are embellished with a patterning of gold, which, from my pew, becomes an intricate network of shining filigree.
And I can't help it that this reminds me exactly of the dress I wore in our Hindu wedding ceremony, 14 years ago.
Will it offend others if I write that, as an outsider, I feel there exists an intersection between the observance (physically, visually, ritually) of Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism?
Chanting, standing, bowing, taking steps as specifically dictated, rituals of touching (or not touching) objects, gesturing on one's own body, turning to face this direction or that, flowing robes, praying prostrate, kissing items to express reverence, flames wafted, peacocks, the taking in of the spirit through food, drinking wine, marking time with sun down and sun rise.
Today I do not take communion, presuming it is not offered in open form. After the service, Father John Abdalah approaches me, wants to answer any questions, and hands me a large piece of communion bread.
I needed to clear this for myself, the relationship of Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism:
For more than 1000 years the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church were one church. In 1054, they split. Orthodox Christianity (with a capital "O"; small "o" is different, less specific), or a.k.a. Eastern Orthodoxy claims origins in Eastern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. Generally these churches are grouped into 3 categories:
1) Orthodox Churches of the Middle East: including this church, Syrian (Antiochian).
2) Orthodox Churches of Central and Eastern Europe: including Greek, my last (68th) visit. (These more closely follow Byzantine traditions... Byzantine is included as a part of the first group. To me this emphasized interconnectedness over separation. In the same way that no part of art history is fully separated from the rest.)
3) the Orthodox Diaspora: those organized outside traditional Orthodox countries.