So in the not-so-recent past, I visited the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Barbara. I am gonna put this out there right now, this church visit is not recommended for beginners. The orthodox are very special in the fact that they practice a very long list of heavy, symbolic, and elongated traditions. I am not saying that someone would have a fit on you if you did not bow your head or cross yourself at all the right times. But it is not unheard of. Especially if you are a member.
I have a lot of mixed thoughts and feeling about the orthodox. On one hand, they have some of the most ancient, and beautiful rituals perfectly preserved, in a way no other group has done. If you don't believe me just look up some pictures from an orthodox style wedding.
On the other hand, the degree as to which this division of the church obsesses over ritual and symbolism, can become burdensome on its member's. That and it still remains far lagging on a lot of issues related to modern reform.
Before you visit an Orthodox church, I highly recommend you read this essay.
"12 Things I wish I knew before visiting an Orthodox Church."
So how did I know how to navigate this church you may ask? Being someone who was baptized Catholic as a baby and raised in the United Church of Canada? The answer to that is many, many, many years of summer camp!
Say hello to camp Kiev's-K-Hi Ukrainian Orthodox Summer Youth Camp.!
I also credit this camp for teaching me how to sit thru 4-hour long church services, where you have to stand half the time.
Once you can survive that. Every other church I have been to since is cake-walk in comparison....
Despite having a good degree of experience in the orthodox church, I almost made a significant error when visiting this church. I didn't bring a scarf to put over my head. But after further examination of the women in the room, I noticed that only about half of the women chose to wear a scarf over their heads, the other half did not. At that point, I concluded that it was safe for me to proceed.
Now to bring up a new question... should women cover their head in church? This has become one of the far lost, and obscure issues, of the church that has kind of fallen to the dusty book shelves of debated issues. Paul speaks in one of his letters that women should have their heads covered in church, as an act of submission to their husbands and to God. In some of his other writings, he says that women need to keep their heads covered in church "because of the angles"? And quite frankly no one quite knows what he is talking about in that one......
The reality is that the majority of modern scholars and churches in North America see no significant function or purpose in keeping a woman's head covered in church. I can say this with a fair amount of certainty after visiting 65 prior churches, and seeing so few cases of "head covering" that I can easily count them all on one hand. And I have never heard a church leader give a sermon on the issue. Now if you search the interwebs you will find endless rants that argue one way or another. But The way I see it is, if you want to wear it, wear it. But putting it out there and reinforcing it is doing nothing for the greater over-all mission of bringing people to Christ in this place and time.
But that's my thoughts anyhow.
But what I find kind of comical with all this is that the highly debated reasons that Muslim women cover their heads are not the same as the reasons why Christian women cover their heads. With the Muslims, the idea is that hair is "seductive" and therefore should be covered up. But with Christian women, the idea is more so with keeping the top of the head covered in church, as an act of submission, vs covering the hair. So while a Muslim woman might be concerned about keeping her hair covered, the women I saw in the front pews before me, had no issue having their long haired ponytails sticking-out the back of their head scarf.
The demographics of this church were slightly younger than normal. Everyone was white, and one guy in particular, looked very Jewish. The majority of the population was middle aged with its share of seniors and a few young people. There were roughly a dozen children at this church, almost all of them were girls. And all the women wore skirts or dresses. Is it just me or does it feel like whenever you are in a Slavic community/family, that somehow it is always overflowing with women? Or is it just the fact that my mother grew up in a farm-house, with a total of six women and one man.(God save Grandpa!)
Apparently according to the stats my hunch actually not that far off...
"Why the former USSR has far fewer men than women?"
The choir sang for the first part of the service. I didn't recognize much of what they were saying, so I am assuming that they were singing in Russian, however, the actual church service was in English.
Now to the actual church service.
This was the scripture of the day; (Luke 11:33-36) and (Luke 12:22-34)
The Lamp of the Body
22The eye is the lamp of the body. If your vision is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your vision is poor, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
24No one can serve two masters: Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. "
Do Not Worry
25Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air: They do not sow or reap or gather into barns—and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his lifespan?
28And why do you worry about clothes? Consider how the lilies of the field grow: They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans pursue all these things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own. "
Quote of the day;
"If we follow these rules we can become saints."
Notes from the sermon;
#1. Have a Good Eye.
It was explained that the eye is the soul of the mind and like sunlight, the eye must be straight and right.
#2. Don't worry about material things.
"There is no rich or poor in nature."
....... because you know.... there is no homosexuality in nature eather....(cough*)
Link- Homosexual Activity Among Animals Stirs Debate
Sorry. I needed to get that out.
#3. Don't worry about yourself.
#4. Don't stash away for tomorrow.
So this brought up the story of the time when the Israelites were in the desert and god provided the mana. And how it would go bad if they tried stashing extra away for the next day "they were not trusting in God".
Then he told the story of a very old and crippled woman, who always seemed very happy and content. When she was asked, "who lives with you?" "who helps you?" She said, "God lives with me!"
As I mentioned before. Everything is ultra-symbolic and ritualistic in the orthodox church. So much so that I can not even begin to cover the depth of meaning of half the stuff I observed. A good piece of background information to have in mind, is that orthodoxy developed in very illiterate countries in its early days. So teaching thru ritual and symbolism, proved a very effective method to get the information across and indicate its significance of God and the trinity.
So if you are wondering what I saw? The only answer I have to that is "a lot".
Communion is also not a simple process here. Because you can not accept communion at this church if #1. you are not an orthodox Christian, and #2. you have not "prepared" yourself the night before with prayer and fasting. When the people did line up for communion, anyone with kids went first, and some people even kneeled briefly in the line up while waiting in line. And if you are not aware, in the orthodox tradition, people are literally "spoon fed communion." Another interesting ritual.
I saw priests and deacons and altar boys in some of the most extravagant robes you will every see ( and they don't even have the holiday robes on at the moment.) I saw people kneeling right on the floor, and in some cases, men would even kneel in the aisle during the worship. Despite there being room in the pews. To these people everything in the church is holy. Including the door frame. Yes, part of their rituals includes the priest kissing the door frame, that leads to the sanctuary. But then again this is an orthodox church. They kiss a lot of things, including icons, crosses, the hand of the priest, etc. I saw one parent pick up their two-year-old so they could kiss the cross in the priest's hand. And by the way, since these people have such a deep value of the symbols that they use for teaching, that they have become very good at adorning things. And when you are Russian Orthodox, that means...
DECKING EVERYTHING OUT IN GOLD!
This also happens to be the Church of St. Barbara you can read more about her here...
Link-Who was Saint Barbara?
See Y'all next Sunday!