First of all, I hadn't been to that church (St-Dyonisis) in awhile, and although I love the church of my youth, this was still where my father's service was and the place stirs emotions Id rather not submit myself to regularly. So when I walked in with my grandmother hanging tight to my arm, I was already feeling a little shaky. It was the same as always, with the entrance layed out in the same way.
On the right are the candles you can light when you come in. You cross yourself and light a candle, then head over to the right to the first little altar and kiss an icon of Christ with a Holy Bible under. This Bible is extremely old, and came from Greece, and it has this most beautiful ornate gold cover. Then you head a few steps to the left to a second altar where there is another icon (equally as old and beautiful) and you cross yourself again and kiss it as well. Now you may enter the church proper.
The lights were shut completely off (apart from a small light at the end where the singer was) and the place was dark enough for me to not be able to see completely. There were people sitting in the pews, but everyone was silent, not a word could be heard. Apart from the singer who was singing the Bible. The atmosphere really was filled with sadness, but also anticipation. I had never felt the Bible come to life like this. We walked up the aisle right up the steps to where a huge altar was layed out. On each side were two girls dressed in white, they were angels guarding the tomb of Christ (called the Epitaphios). We crossed ourselves and kissed the central icon, and the ones on both sides, and then backed away until we reached the stairs, where we went down and sat in one of the pews. All in silence. All in the utmost respect for what we had in front of us. My grandmother had to walk back down to go talk to some relatives, and I stayed there and just looked. Looked at the beauty of what was in front of me. Along with the altar, there was a huge wooden cross directly in front of me, with a candle on each of its end. All there was to be heard was the sound of the singer lamenting His death. It was the most beautiful, the saddest, and the most transcending thing I ever saw and felt.
Afterwards, the service began in earnest and there were so many special things laden with solemn beauty. There was a four part stanza (which took about 40 minutes by itself) that lamented the death of Christ and affirmed our belief in His Resurrection, a procession of the little girl/angels, and then we went outside and walked around the block (each of us with a lit candle) with the Epitaphios and the cross and threw petals. Back at the Church, we passed under the Epitaphios, and then the Pater gave his sermon (which was excellent). Afterwards we lined up and each received a handful of the flowers that the Epitaphios was made of.
I feel like this ceremony reaffirmed something inside of me, as well as filled me with reverence for mystical beauty and dignity. I had been giving much thought to the idea of converting to Catholism because of the fact that I lived my life technically more as a Catholic than as an Orthodox, and understood more about Catholism than Orthodoxy. But this service showed me how lucky I am to have been a part of this, that I am proud of my heritage, and that time and time again (apart from the very few churches with traditional mass) I am shown that there is a let down of the sactity and beauty involved in a service. This is how service should be, not a 30 minute rushed affair with cellphones going off.
Christos Anesti, Allithos Anesti!
|The flowers I received in my crystal bowl (heirloom from my grandmother)|