You may wish to comment on my impressions, correct them, or enlighten me on features which seem to mystify me as a visiting Baptist:
Before attending the 10.45 Evangelical service in Gjirokastër a couple of Sundays ago, I attended the 8.45 service at the Orthodox Church, and here is a description of the service, from the point of view of an outsider.
Glad to hear that you went back to another Divine Liturgy, David!
It seems, though, that you didn't utilize any of the resources some of us have given you to educate yourself about what is happening during the service. I say that not as a criticism, just as an observation. There are some basics here that, had you read the material we gave you, you would have understood immediately on sight. Again, not a criticism at all, just an observation. I will say, though, that it will be very difficult for you to understand the services going forward if you don’t either read about them or speak with someone (a priest or someone else who knows about the services) about them. At the very least, a Divine Liturgy book (which contains the prayers that the priest AND people are to be saying) is necessary.
One remarkable feature of the service, which lasted 1½ hours, is that most of it is conducted by the priest from behind the iconostasis, with his back to the congregation; he is visible through the door in the iconostasis. At the front were three men chanting. Another striking feature of the service was the fact that there is almost no audience participation: Anglicans say prayers together, Baptists sing hymns together, but Orthodox stand (or sit) and watch the priests. I believe the only part they take actively in the whole service is to recite the Nicene Creed.
This is a misunderstanding. Of course the people participate! Otherwise nothing is happening. The Liturgy is the “work of the people” (as I’m sure you’ve heard). The people’s participation is crucial in a much more vital way than in ANY other form of worship, be it Anglican, Baptist, etc. Just because you don’t SEE it, doesn’t mean it’s happening. You MUST listen to the prayers, to understand what I mean. For instance, when the priest says, “Let us pray to the Lord,” the people are to AT LEAST respond with “Lord have mercy.” The series of litanies (which begin with that very petition) are NOT the PRIEST praying. They are the priest calling the PEOPLE to pray. Now, yes, the chanter (or choir, in some cases) audibly responds with “Lord have mercy,” etc. But the congregation should be responding EITHER audibly or INAUDIBLY as well. If they so choose, they may respond simply by making the sign of the cross, thereby signaling their prayer. Or they may say a private petition of their own. There are MANY ways for the people to participate. Please remember that you are just walking into this situation. There is a lot for you to take in. Don’t assume that because you don’t see it, it isn’t happening.
The scripture readings were (for me) hard - nay, impossible - to follow, as they were not read out in a normal voice, but were chanted. I doubt I would have recognised them, if I had not read them in my ‘quiet time’ earlier from the Orthodox lectionary for the day - and the Lord was able thus to bless me through his inspired Word.
Yeah, that often takes getting used to for those who have never experienced it. For people who have been coming to the Church for many years, this is the only way to read the Scriptures in the Church. The purpose of it is so that we do NOT focus on the voice or inflection of the person reading, but rather to listen to the words. I, personally, find it thoroughly distracting when people read the Scriptures WITHOUT chanting it, because they emphasize different words and whatnot. It is much easier to concentrate on the words (for me) when they are being chanted. I often chant the Scriptures out loud when I read them at home. But again, this takes getting used to if you’ve never experienced it.
There are a number of processions around the church, undertaken by the priest and one or two others, once with a book held high, twice with a censer. Some of the women grasped and kissed the priest’s robes as he passed.
LOL. Again, you would have known what this was all about if you had read the material we gave you, or at the very least, picked up the Liturgy book. That “book” that the priest is carrying, is, by the way, the Gospel.
It being Pentecost Sunday, one of the two priests, Father Theodhori, preached a 12-minute sermon about the Holy Spirit. This was followed by the Lord’s Supper. Orthodox go forward for communion, rather than its being brought to them in the body of the church as among Baptists, and I was surprised at how few went forward and partook.
Yes, communion is not taken lightly in the Orthodox Church. To receive requires preparation (fasting, confession, prayer, etc). If one has not properly prepared, they do not partake.
All this took up the first hour. Then the other priest (Father Dhionis) read at length from a book, with his back to the congregation; the three men at the front chanted. Then Father Theodhori walked round the church and shook the censer to and fro, which also made its bells ring. As he passed me and shook the censer at me, he grinned in a friendly manner, seemingly as if to say to his Protestant visitor, “Bet you’ve never had that done to you before!” (which was quite true). Each priest knelt at the front, facing the congregation, and prayed. At the end of the service, more or less everyone made a bee-line for the front of the church, and took a piece of the bread from a large bowl. (I myself went forward neither for communion, nor for the final piece of bread, believing I would not be admitted to the former, and not knowing the rules or purpose of the latter.)
He didn’t just shake the censor. He’s praying, and you should be too, when that happens, as a member of the congregation. Again, read the material…
The congregation numbered about two dozen, mainly elderly, and gradually grew to 30 or more as the service progressed, for people trickle in during the first half hour or more. People also drifted out before the end, and some held sotto voce conversations with each other during parts of the service. The women sat on the left, the men on the right - except two women who came in late and perhaps made a faux pas by sitting on the wrong side. (An embarrassing mistake if it was, and one I made on the one occasion I worshipped with the Moravian Brethren.)
There’s no law that says that women have to sit on one side and men on the other, but it is traditional. Many churches don’t do that anymore, some do.
I write none of this to find fault or belittle your way of worship; only, I thought you might be interested to read of the impressions made on someone for whom it was only the second time at an Orthodox service.
I certainly didn’t think you were belittling, and I pray I’m not offending with my words. Forgive me, but I’m left wondering why you are not educating yourself about the Liturgy. You have expressed so much interest in learning about Orthodoxy. But the most important part of Orthodoxy (the Eucharist), you are leaving up to your senses (what you see and hear) only, rather than engaging your mind. This is not going to get you very far, I fear. You have to listen carefully to the prayers, read along with them, to understand what is happening. I’m happy to send you more links on the internet, or even mail you books, if you’d like.