On Sunday Doug and I visited a Greek Orthodox church. We sought a change of pace and wanted to participate in a worship tradition that is sacrament-based rather than word-based.
Our local Greek Orthodox Parish meets in warehouse space in a business park. We arrived a few minutes early since it was Fall Back Sunday. I expected to see concrete floors, cement block walls, and utilitarian lighting, all of which would lend a temporary, contemporary vibe to the worship space. Perhaps some coffee-sipping band leaders would be completing their last-minute setup.
Instead, we walked into a traditional nave with icons all around and liturgical chanting already underway. The clergy wore beautiful vestments and there was a full complement of robed altar boys. The liturgy was chanted and sung by a number of voices, including a mixed choir, all without accompaniment. We sat in traditional wood pews equipped with kneelers. We followed the liturgy in bound books from a pew rack, Greek on the left hand and English on the right. Incense filled the sanctuary.
The transformation of the warehouse space into sacred space was so successful that I was there for more than 30 minutes before it occurred to me to look around to see how they accomplished this feat. Then I studied the details.
The cement block walls had been painted a deep blue, and archways built over those walls. These archways were painted a soft yellow, and white plate rails held many large icons. Ornate hooks held oil lamps in front of the central icons. Shimmering cloths adorned the altar and lectern. Everything felt fresh and immaculate.
Check out the picture on the parish’s website. I didn’t take pictures. I wanted to be less tourist and more pilgrim.
The Orthodox call their worship the Divine Liturgy. The portion leading up to the Eucharist lasted a full hour and congregants dribbled in this entire hour. The gospel reading was from Luke 16, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. After the reading there was a pause in the liturgy. An offering was received. Then the cleric stood in the middle to deliver a sermon. It happened to be Stewardship Sunday, and this part of the service felt very familiar. In fact, I think I may have preached the same sermon: an exhortation to give Time, Talents and Treasure, all three, for all are valuable. He also made a point of welcoming the gifts of children, and used a bit of humor.
After the sermon the congregation lined up to go forward to receive the sacrament, and Doug and I ducked out. The bulletin made clear that the Eucharist was intended only for the Orthodox. If you’ve read the first chapter of my book, you may remember that I don’t like to be excluded from the sacrament!
Still, I was grateful for the chance to worship with my Orthodox sisters and brothers on this day. I especially appreciated the chance to soak in their sacred space, warehouse turned to worship.
Has any worship space surprised or delighted you recently? I’d love to hear about it. I sometimes worry that contemporary Christianity’s drift into very casual worship environments can at times starve the senses. I appreciate order and beauty.