On Friday night, we stopped by the coffee shop run by our Orthodox parish and the priest from the parish was there, as usual, working as the barista. We hadn’t spoken to him in a week or two and the coffee shop was actually kind of busy, so we didn’t get much chance to really talk. He asked us if we were still interested in Orthodoxy, we were, and he also asked a question that took me by surprise and left me slightly at a loss for words. He asked, “what are you seeing?”
Had he said, what do you think? I might have been able to give him an answer instead of mumbling something more or less nonsensical and not really answering his question. I’m still not sure I can provide a sensible answer to the question and I can think of a number of reasons for that.
First, thinking back on the question, I wasn’t sure if he meant it literally or figuratively. I took it literally in that I thought he was asking what we saw at Church. I guess that’s what threw me for a loop, the Orthodox liturgy and vespers are so different from anything I’m used to, my senses are still overwhelmed by the experience. It’s hard to describe, much less make real sense of. Services in an Orthodox parish involve every one of your senses, sights, sounds, smells of incense, touch, hearing, the whole nine yards. Just standing for anywhere from 45 minutes to nearly 2 hours eventually dulls my capacity to notice much of anything except the pain in my feet. Not that I’ve been able to stand during an entire 2 hour Divine Liturgy, but even making the attempt is a painful experience.
I can say, I see a liturgy that is obviously ancient, there’s no compromise with modern sensibilities and preoccupation with comfort and convenience; there’s little attempt to make it enjoyable or entertaining, that’s not the idea. I hadn’t realized how much the Catholic Mass after Vatican II had made such compromises, but I see it attending Divine services. In an Orthodox Church, you stand out of reverence for God, there’s little direct, or maybe obvious is a better word, participation by the congregation but still, it’s apparent those in attendance are part of a worshiping congregation, not an audience. There may or may not be a homily or sermon because that really isn’t the point of attending Orthodox services; the point is to worship God in the Eucharist.
One other, incidental, thing I see in the parish I’m attending, is that there are a lot of young and young(er) people there, more than I think you’d see in the typical Catholic parish. I don’t know if that’s my imagination or not, but if true, I’d conclude that this indicates that by not catering to modern cultural whims and attitudes, orthodoxy is able to strike a chord that young people are still able to respond to. I think that’s something few people in our society are willing to admit, or are even capable of understanding.
So, that’s brief summary of what I’m seeing. The truth is, though, I’ve only described the surface of things and haven’t touched the depths of what’s really going on. To do that I have to answer the question I might have expected from Father A when we saw him on Friday. What I’m thinking is we are much closer to what we have been looking for for a long time. When we began the search that ended in our joining the Catholic Church, our primary objectives were to find a Church faithful to everything that represents the truest and best of Christianity and to find a Church that didn’t change with the wind, trying to conform itself to whatever happened to be popular or politically correct at the moment. For all the blank spots in our understanding so far, I think we’ve found that in the Orthodox Church. I think I’d like to keep going in our quest.
So, maybe it’s fair to say that what I see and what I think, so far, is that the Orthodox Church is one that is obviously very ancient and, as far as we’re concerned, fits the bill.
So, I know it’s not Christmas but sometimes it sure feels like it.