Church this morning at the Russian Orthodox church. There is a priest our team leader has befriended in previous visits. He had sent us the Liturgy to be able to follow along during the 2 hours plus long service that was spoken in old Russian. I understood none of it, but it was beautiful . It is a language that does not have curses and swearing in it.
When we walked in, the women in the group (four of the seven) pulled our scarves over heads. I cannot remember why, but women are not as high up as men. Women are not allowed behind the alter, since we are unclean. I wanted to ask why we were so dirty and awful when we were MADE this way? I’m just pointing it out. I realize this is rooted in Jewish tradition as well. However, being un- educated in this perspective, I have a difficult time understanding the amount of separation and exclusion women have in these traditional settings.
The scarves though, did not bother me. It’s a way of showing respect and humlility. Similar to the way your head is covered as a Jew. Along with our heads being covered, we also wore long skirts.
We came into the church basement. The upper church is not heated in the winter. So they have the basement set up. While it is a bit faded on the edges, exposed ceiling and stained walls, the room is set up to be a downstairs church. Everyone was standing (no chairs or pews, except a few unused benches along the wall) then the alter in the front, which was separated, with a wall that had a few closed doors on the sides and one in the center that could either be open, halfway closed, or completely blocked off when the priest drew the red curtain across the top.
The priest is a huge figure in the Orthodox church. He symbolizes a connection with God I think? While in the Presbyterian church we are all about a relationship with God, and consider Jesus a friend. To see Jesus like this is, to the Orthodox, demeaning Him, and lowering Him to our level. They focus on the great and mystical ways of God.
A service, which is held every day, is an event of worship. The words , actions, and environment is all conducive to worship. Walking in, there is gold decorating the many paintings and pictures hung. Now it is simply gold foil, but it is carefully put up by the alter to show the importance. There are stands of candles, bought and lit as an offering, that stand in the front, or by a couple of the paintings. When someone lights a candle, they often kiss the edge of the painting.
There were many paintings hung about the room. During the long service I tried to remember my one glorious art history class during college (in Roma). Were these Mary and Jesus paintings byzantine? No, it was the simplistic, but similarly flat l like appearance that followed…16th century? Darn I should remember this. Anyways, the point is that many think the Orthodox church is into the worship of Icons. The priest (who had studied in America and has talked with our previous groups) said that they use the paintings, and like anything that is used for good, it can become bad by people’s focus and perspective. So no, they do not view it as a use of icons, that is simply people taking the paintings and such too far and morphing perspective of what they were originally intended for.
The priest wore a large red and gold piece of fabric, that folds over his shoulders and then falls to the floor. A large cross lays over top in the front. A large, box like, black hat sat on his head, and the fabric continued over halfway down his back, flaring out like the rest of his robe, but shorter. He had a large beard, and direct, alert brown eyes.
To the left of the alter was a man who would read the response, echoed or supported by a few women in the choir type area who would chant/sing along. It was more lovely than chanting, but did not contain a wide ranging melody. It was a part of the service that filled the intermittence of the priests liturgy with praise and prayer.
Everyone standing would cross themselves and bowing, sometimes touching the floor with a hand. This happened throughout the service, sometimes with a higher frequency than at other times.
I really did not understand what it meant, but with the exception of the realization that my back does actually really really hurt a lot in some areas, that’s about all that I gained in the absolute sense.
Being able to be at the service, silently watching in the back, without crossing my arms or legs (as I was informed is NOT allowed AT ALL) was very educational. Just watching showed a lot in the mannerisms and traditional structure of the Liturgy. All were long, but for a reason and a purpose. My attitude was not this appreciative of the experience at the time, especially when the priest and choir came out into the area with the rest of the worshipers/parishioners and continued with a supplemental service after the main one. My observations of detail were out of desperation to remain attentive and survive the event, while my brain meandered around my thoughts without reason or direction.
However, with a good recline, I can very assuredly say it was a wonderful thing to experience.
Many think that the Russian Orthodox church has been corrupted from communism. It is true, there was compromise and the communist party shut down a lot of churches, using them as nothing more than storage for food. And priests had to allow some concession in order to be allowed to continue the church.
While I do not think compromise is good; perhaps it is sometime better to be quiet and endure in order to continue on, then to pick a losing fight that would certainly result in the church being shut down/destroyed/unavailable to anyone.
Meeting our Translators
We met the girls who would be translating for us. Many are in college, or recently graduated. This is their job, in a professional way. But they chattered excitedly and began opening up. These things take time here. (the opening up part). We had lunch (for us )and tea time after meeting them and coming into the Ministry center.
They have recently had to downsize the center. Like cut in half. I did not see it before, but it was cramped. We discussed it with the director there and she expressed that for the day to day activities, it is enough room and not too bad. But when there is an event (like us being here). Then it becomes cramped.
Dinner, we took out the Young Families Group. Families who sign up to participate in this program attend events and receive a small amount of funding. Dinner was a lovely spread, starting with a Greek salad. The Greek salad consisted of the cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions with pieces of that soft cheese again and a light olive oil on top. The other food was American… so non-commentable However, there was a fruit platter with fruit designed and sliced all pretty and arranged on the plate. We sat alternating between translators, Americans and the families.
Usually I consider myself a decent conversationalist. But when the girls sat next to me with their two kids, questions were answered with short words. Smiles are not returned or even shared. I forgot what an adjustment communication itself is when in other places. I am so very American. Verbal. And a smile almost always on my face. I keep being mistaken as Russian by the other translators, they say, if I didn’t smile as much the image would be complete :p I guess it’s not too problematic of a cultural habit to carry.