Hello again, thanks for your kind responses. I kept them in mind as I contemplated going to Divine Liturgy. I ended up finally attending yesterday after chickening out for a couple weeks (my wife asked to come...she's a cradle Roman Catholic). A few observations, not necessarily in any organized manner:
1) The iconostasis is beautiful...this is a small church, but I could not take my eyes off the icons throughout the Divine Liturgy. I feel that the icons are more intense than Catholic statuary, almost as if Jesus, Mary, and the saints were staring at me, catching my eye, forcing me to interact with them. Is this a permissible interpretation? Anyhow, they were quite beautiful.
2) I enjoyed the chanting...I'm already a huge fan of Gregorian chant, and wish the Catholic church had more of it still. The choir was nice, sometimes it sounded like it veered from an 'eastern' sound to more of a 'gospel' sound, if that makes sense. I had trouble figuring out when it was just the choir singing or when everyone would join in. But that's partly because I was just soaking it in while my wife was the one reading along with the book they had.
3) I loved how the priest faced away from us. At several points, he had his hands raised, and there was this huge icon of Mary in the back behind the altar, with a child Jesus, and she had her hands spread back at him, like they were both invoking prayers at the same time in the direction of the altar. Not sure if it was intentional, but the symmetry was striking.
4) There was a LOT of chanting, hymn-singing, and praying going on. =) So much that it seemed to go fast, as the prayer moved into a chant and then into a prayer again. I'm sure a lot of my confusion comes from not knowing the meaning of what is going on, but it almost seemed cluttered, if I can apologize for saying it like that. I guess coming from a Catholic Mass, where it is shorter and each prayer is more isolated, that's how I get that impression. Again, I loved the beauty of the chanting and the prayers, it was just a lot going on in rapid succession. Forgive my ignorance...
5) People crossed themselves a lot during the service...I think in the typical Mass I attend, it's maybe 2-3 times? In this Divine Liturgy, I'd have to say at least 10? There were a lot of symbolic moments going on...gestures, how the priest held the gospel book, the crossing, movement, etc. I feel like it's a rich tapestry I haven't even begun to unpack. One part I liked was when the priest walked around the congregation with two (chalices?) covered by clothes. An Orthodox friend at work said this was the Great Entrance? I really liked that ritual even if I'm not sure what it entails.
6) A couple of times, people handed us 'blessed bread'? We weren't sure if we were to eat this or save this during the service. It was a very nice thing, I have to say...I know many times, people feel excluded when they can't receive communion...this was a way to balance the need to include all with the need for the Eucharist as a sign of unity.
7) The folks were friendly, a couple of them said hello afterwards, invited us to the Coffee Hour, and hoped to see us again. I admit my wife and I were really shy and left after the service, but politely.
We agreed it was nice, but we're really not sure where we're at with converting. I've been Catholic for 4 years now, it's a bigger church, we know everybody, there's all sorts of opportunities for social/devotional involvement (Knights of Columbus, Lay Carmelites, bible study, etc). This Orthodox church is probably a 20-min drive versus 5-min for our Catholic Church. Sometimes I wonder if I could attend both, and just receive at my Catholic Church. The Orthodox liturgy is just that striking.
It lasted an hour and a half, a bit longer than the usual hour-long Mass, but not much. I didn't feel like I stood too long though as there was no kneeling or prostrations, probably due to the gym-style seating they had.
I was really glad I went...I have been wanting to go for some time, and kept putting it off, so I was happy that I had finally visited.
I'm currently in the middle of a spiritual battle where my head is split three-ways...I'm struggling with Catholic social teachings, some of which I know the Orthodox concur on...I call that my Episcopalian brain, as I was Episcopal before I came Catholic. Then there's my Catholic brain, which loves unity and authority and tradition and I'll admit, I enjoy the scholastic musings of the western saints. Then I have this Orthodox brain, which resolves some of the difficulties I have with papal supremacy in how it seems to exclude the East, and turn what at best would be a Roman prime minister-ship into an absolute monarchy, plus a deep need for beauty of tradition that the Divine Liturgy has in spades versus the new Mass I attend now. And I love how the Orthodox focus more on a communion with God versus atonement for sins..
I'm probably not articulate in how I express myself, as my spiritual thinking lately is as muddled as that last paragraph probably was. I don't have any clear answers yet, but I feel like I need to at least take concrete steps to explore the varying traditions in more depth. I regularly listen to some good podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio, and I've begun reading a few Orthodox books (Ware's Orthodox Church and Orthodox Way), but I'm still in a beginning stage.
Thanks for reading/listening to my musings...I'll try to post more as I move along. God bless you all...