Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Orthodox | Fluid Worship

We arrived at the Greek Orthodox Church at 11:45am, and went up to the balcony from where we would get the best view of all that was going on.

The service had, at its core, a very rigid structure: liturgy chanted by the deacon and choir; prayers and ritual actions by the priest; set elements to the service, in a set order, with set variations (as, indeed, is the case with Anglican liturgy).

In relation to this structure, the congregation had very little to do; other than stand up and sit down again at the right moments, and cross themselves, over and over.

But around this, a lot was going on. Children walked in and out of their own group in another part of the building. People kept arriving: when we arrived, the congregation was very small; it kept growing over the next hour and a half; filling up, filling up. People came in, in groups; each lighting a candle, kissing a series of icons, and a holy book (Gospels?). A widow brought food, a symbolic gift to her departed husband, and placed it on a table at the front; someone else brought a framed photo of the deceased, and placed it on the same table. People greeted one another, as and when. At one point, various men were invited to take part in a procession in preparation for the communion, which was taken by the children. After the communion, the family of the recently deceased man stood together while the priest prayed over them, a personal interruption to the flow of the whole…

It didn’t matter that people were engaging with things at different levels, at different moments. In fact, the service was structured with that expectation.

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