I may be breaking my rules a bit, but the way i see it rules were made to be broken. This weekend i went out of the city and back to my home town. Partially for the goal of documenting the making of the ice cross and then attending of the church service. So sit back and enjoy 259 easy steps on how to build an ice cross for the Theophany or better known as the celebration of Christs Baptism. Lets begin.
Clear the ice.
Bring your brother,
Test your depth.
First rule of ice cross: Don't Hit Water!
Third rule of Ice Cross: FOOD!!!!
Over in parts of Europe it is common to people to take that whole in the ice where they cut the blocks, lower a V shaped pair of stairs into it, and people will pretty much "polar walk" these stairs as part of an act of purification.
In some warmer parts if the world, the priest will also throw a cross out into the water and then often a large group of men will dive in. The first one to retrieve the cross gets a special blessing. Also bragging rights.
This was day one, now on to day 2.
Side note: The first year this church built an Ice cross was 1965. This actually pre-dates the opening of the summer camp that it sits on.
As a kid i would have never thought that this church ran like an actual church. Though low and behold, here I am. I am thankful at this moment that i spent the time i did at this summer camp.One of the reasons being is that I learned all the traditions and expectations associated with this kind of church. Compared to most, they are a complex bunch. So i walked in crossed myself the appropriate amount of times with the right amount of fingers, in the right order, kissed the cross, kissed the icon, and sat-down. I also noticed when i was walking in that there was a piece of paper and pen up on a pedestal with three sections. "Living", "Sick", "Deceased"
As you can image I filled my name under the "Living" section.This list was used latter to quickly name off all the people in the church to have them included in a specific prayer.
For any of you that don't know this church is notably tiny. Despite all i can not say it was the smallest. It likely falls neck and neck with Danish church i went to. Let's just say i know from my camp years, that this is not a good place for people with space bubbles. How we packed over 100 kids in here some days i will never know.
After kissing the icons there was also an option to walk over to the corner and lean your head onto a bible that was on a 5' stand, and have the Father put his hand/robe over your head, and also bend his head over and pray for you. There was a line-up so i decided to pass.
I think this church was also unique in the fact that there was literately no artificial light.The Only sources of illumination was the morning sun pouring in the right side windows and the extensive array of candles lit. I know sometimes at night they light the chandelier
The camp Father here now,is not the same one I remember. But After meeting the new Father of the camp church, I feel he is more then the right man for the job. Also the man to be credited with the new and very popular sport of "Religion dodge-ball". You have my respect sir.
This Church had a surprisingly balanced family mix, but then again that is more common on major religious holidays. Around 40 people i counted. Most were sitting in the body of the church but there were other sitting in this back section called a, Narthex. I needed to look that up. Here is a diagram I found.
Its this section way at the back of the church.The door is still open and you can still see and here the sermon but this is pretty much the equivalent of nose bleed seats. This section is traditionally reserved for people that are coming to the church but are not part of the "orthodox " faith or if for some reason that person has been in some way in trouble the church.
You know maybe ignorance is bliss, but sad to say i don't feel half as positive about this place as when i was a kid,. Now being at third done my mission, this whole idea of the Narthex really repulses me. If we believe that we are all gods children, we are loved equally, created equal, and the second highest law is to do onto other as we would have done onto ourselves. I just can't see this being right. NO ONE deserves the nose bleed seats at church! I don't define myself as orthodox but never the less I gave no second thought to my choice to sit in the main body of the church.
However i was happy to see one of my favorite decorations. Three loves of kolach bread stacked together with a candle thru them. Partiality because it symbolizes a celebration, and partiality because we get to eat it afterwards.
Our service contained all of the common key attributes of most orthodox services, a choir of seniors, a lot of standing and sitting, crossing ones self a multitude of times, and of coarse Father blessing the room with incense. Which normally involves swinging back and forth a smoldering incense holder on a chain that looks something like this.
Father also went and carried a bible around the room holding it high and allowing people to kiss it all while saying " Christ is Born" in English and Ukrainian. There is a lot on chanting done in this church. As is typical of the orthodox faith. Always in Ukrainian and then in English. However i did notice substantially less English in this service then the one i remember as a camper. It is always hard to pray when you cant understand what you are praying about due to language barrier.
Another interesting thing i noticed is that during the sermon father turned to the congregation and said "Forgive be brothers and sister for i have sinned before you" and then the congregation replied back "we forgive you".
As you saw there is a back section to the church where only the priest an maybe the alter boy are allowed. It always felt like there was something more back there that we were not allowed to see. But even at the age of 11 I knew, rules were made to be broken, so I snuck back there ( Sorry Uncle Buck! ) to see what was so dam special. What i found behind everything was a beautiful painting of Christ laying in his burial tomb, covered in a linen and surrounded by angles. A truly beautiful piece.
The reading today as Luke 18:35-43.
35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.
42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.
The explanation given after by the Father spoke of how "People that are speaking Christ are often told to be quite." And how Christians need to stand up for them selves! I spoke to father after the service to get some clarification on this. Cause mattering on how a person might interpret this, it could mean anything. Including getting up on a soap box and yelling to the sky while all the drunk college kids pass by. Me and Father mutually agreed that is a very poor tactic. What he was referring to is that Christians need to not be ashamed about the fact that they are Christians. Because sometimes its hard. Story time.
So one night i went out to see my buddies band play at a local venue, and i know some of you will recognize this place.
Anyhow I'm at this show and the room is packed and the lead singer in the band is going on some brief angry rant and he blurts out something to the effect of. "Is there anyone in this room who actually still believes in GOD!!!????" and from what i could see, me and and two guys sitting by the window raised our hands half way embarrised. The singer kind of slunk back, not thinking anyone would actually raise their hand, and went onto the next song. Faith ain't easy some days.
So eventually we did get around to speaking of the reason why we spent numerous house cutting ice out of the lake yesterday. Celebration of the Baptism of Christ and the Blessing of the Waters. John knew Jesus was coming. He knew more then well, in fact he was pretty much was prepping people by telling them to get a head start on repenting and being baptized. What he didn't see coming was this great man coming before him and asking John to baptize him. That is pretty much like being a a Catholic priest of a poor and small church in the middle of nowhere, and having Pope Francis show up at your door and asking you specifically, to give him communion. In-fact John looks back at him and says "I have need of you to baptize me! and yet you come to me!?" But Christ replies “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” so John agrees and as he dunks him in the water.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on Him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”
Communion was offered, I know how they did it here was kind of interesting. It of coarse involved a cup of wine, which Father had covered with a fancy cloth and said a very complex blessing before beginning the ritual ( with a little assistance of a neon colored sticky note on top of the cup-cover). I was just about to walk up when my brother stopped me. I asked him why and he explained that in this church taking communion was a process that required a special fast the day before, prayers and a list of other things i don't remember. So i ended up without communion.
The way they do communion is that they put the pieces of bread directly into the wine cup and then spoon feed it to you. they also hold up a cloth between your mouth and the cup. Because in the orthodox faith if the communion piece falls to the floor, the priest is literately required to cut out that spot in the floor where it feel, bless the spot, and burn that little piece of the flooring. They apparently have a listed set of guidelines on how to do it mattering on what type of flooring it is. ex. hard wood, carpet, linoleum. etc.
After this was all done we were told to get our coats on because we were going outside! So along with a few people bearing some banners, icons and other worship items we all paraded outside to our Ice cross.
(there was also a quick run to get water because someone forgot to fill the golden vessel). And after that all the blessing started.
I also noticed that at one point he was holding a book entitled "The Book of Needs". I asked what this meant and he told me it was 1 of a series of 4 and it pretty much served as guide on how to do anything and everything that is more then just a regular Sunday service. He told me that when he was living out need that coast he had blessed winery's in the past and very much so enjoyed it. I also can recall a special ceremony done by a priest to bless my fathers farmland as part of the rituals at his funeral.
After this was all done people lined up with a verity of re-purposed bottles to take home a portion of the holly water. And for us that didn't for see this there was some extra jars on the side. We were also encouraged to drink some. Here is my lovely take home jar.
4th Rule of Ice Cross:
More food! Blessed with Holly Water!
Most specifically meatless food! Apparently it is required on this day. And also in the view of the church fish is still except-able at meatless meals. So we had shrimp!!! I was a happy girl.
I was able to ask father about his silver robes which he says he also wears during the Nativity and The Resurrection.
One thing i asked about was the incense. Because often there are notices at church not to wear perfume and i know this could be an issue. Father told me that he has not had too many issues with people being sensitive to the smell. Apparently there is a wide verity of different scents available, many are floral and he has had request by people not to buy incense made with certain flowers.
And my favorite quote of the day; "The Supper Substantial Trinity!" - Father Peter.
On a final note! The orthodox church has declared a new saint. Say hello to Saint Paisios!
Peace be with you.
I'm gonna go drink some holly water.... I wonder if it tastes like coco nut yet?