Thursday, February 5, 2009

Off to Church...

I've decided that since I will have tons of time on my hands this semester (I'm only taking 13 hours of class, three of them are implicit within the program, and I'll only be in class three days a week) I've decided to take it upon myself to do an in-depth study of the Eastern Orthodox Church. I'm really excited about it. I know that makes me sound like one of the biggest nerds in the world, but let me explain a bit more.

It's known here simply as the Orthodox Church because, due to it's history, it really is seen as the original church. Prior to 1054 (the formal date, though there had been conflicts for decades prior), there was only one Catholic Church. Christianity was celebrated as one body of Christ throughout the world. However, due to some theological debates and, mainly, power struggles, the churches split into the West (the church we know now as Catholicism and it's protestant children) and the East, which is the Orthodox Church. That's a bit of background.

Fast forward for some present-day theology. The Orthodox Church sees itself not as a human construction which exists to help people find their way back to God. Rather, they see themselves as an extension of God himself here on Earth. The Church as a building has a foot in both the spiritual and the physical world. As such, it is constructed and maintained in a way that would make people feel like they're literally walking into heaven when they enter the building.

The walls are all covered in ornate, hand painted murals depicting Biblical stories. The rooms are flooded with natural light filtered through stained glass windows. Sweet smelling incense is lit and hung from golden vessels. Families, three generations at a time, form processionals through the narthex kissing icons, crossing themselves, and lighting votive candles as physical releases of their prayers to God. Trust me when I say that it really does feel like setting foot in God's house.

I'll be attending mass this weekend for the first time. In such a traditional church, I'm pretty intimidated. There are so many movements I don't know, so many meanings I don't yet understand. Not to mention I'm sure I'll be the only light skinned, red-headed person in the church (also within a 100 mile radius) and I don't speak the language yet. I've asked for pointers from all the Orthodox people I know, including all of my religion professors, but I'm still kinda frightened!

Still, there is something entirely captivating about this rich tradition. It's so mysterious, and I imagine it will maintain that mystery no matter how much I learn about it. It's got so much history (again, status quo for Greece) and I have so much to learn from them. I'll be sure to let you all know how it goes, both with the research and with mass this weekend!


JustJess said...

I bet you will just LOVE going to church there. I attended mass in Mexico with my family every week, and it was so special. Now, part of it for me was the fact that I was decently familiar with the American Mass structure. In Mexico, I didn't speak the language that well in the beginning but each prayer, each saying, they were the exact same. Sitting miles away from home in a culture so different from my own, it was comforting to still know exactly where they were in the mass. I pray God will reveal himself through the amazing experience of worshipping corporately with a different group of believers. I love you!

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