I stood there, with all the beautiful voices rising, rising up to the top of the dome where the painted saints looked down, looked down on my hands overflowing with bread. “Taste and see”, intoned the liturgy and more bread was piled into my cupped hands, given with smiles and warmth and welcome. My joy giggled out as my hands got ever-fuller.
My children were astonished by all this bread gifting. Their mouths were as stuffed as their hands. Reuben was in carb heaven. Sophia leaned in and said, “Mommy, this church is so beautiful. Why aren’t Mennonite churches colorful like this?” I smiled. Oh the variety among God’s children.
The music, oh the music. The voices just swell and lift in ancient, unhurried rhythm. Lots of repetition, lots of time for the words to become prayers and the heart to turn towards God. Our friend, Leon Miller, guided us through with whispered hints, where to turn in the liturgy, when to lay prostrate, even giving us a quick lesson in making the sign of the cross, the Orthodox way, in hushed whispers in the cloak room before the service. He had also passed us each a thin beeswax taper which we each lit while we offered a prayer to God, and stuck into a trough of smooth sand, a whole little beach of lights symbolizing prayers.
The scripture, oh the scripture. Not just a dash or a dose of a passage, but broad sweeps of it, big long draughts of it, whole psalms devoured, sung. While the priest swings the censer of incense beyond the royal doors, up and down the aisle.
I didn’t understand all of it, but I appreciated it; like seeing a complicated national dance and knowing that the movements and symbols are all intrinsically connected to the culture and history of that nation. That every bit of it is intentional, it all has meaning. And when you see these forms of worship and hear this liturgy that goes back to the time of Christ, something within you recognizes the flavor, if not the form.
We stood nearly the whole time and I cannot remember feeling fatigue. Our children were with us, which I dearly love, being a fan of families worshipping together and not parceled out to age-specific programs. Reuben told me, “Mom, I just loved listening to the pastor and the beautiful music”. And, of course, he liked all the lovely people filling his hands with bread.
We ended with a feast and my heart was as full as my stomach. If I had to pare down the experience into a few words, they would be: beauty, warmth, and a sense of being at home within Christian history. Quite the experience.
Our warm thanks to Leon for your invitation and to the dear ones at St. John Chrysostom Antiochian Orthodox Church for your warm hospitality.