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Author Topic: Visiting a Malankara Syrian Church!  (Read 849 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: May 30, 2014, 04:06:12 PM »

I'm visiting a Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church for the first time! Its about the same 40 minute drive away as my church( but in the opposite direction). I'm super excited! I'm going this Sunday for liturgy and wil receive communion. The entire service is in Malayalam. Last time I spoke with the priest(about a year ago- talk about procrastination!) he said they are trying to start an english liturgy once a month but I have not heard of it happening. Will they have english service books? Do I take my shoes off? Is the Body and Blood separate or together? Let me know guys! What should I expect. PM if you live in New York state and if this is your parish we could hang out for a bit. Thanks guys!
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« Reply #1 on: May 30, 2014, 04:40:04 PM »

Will they have english service books?
Depends on the church. English service books are available online. Most of these including the service books kept at churches will only have the portions recited by the laity (choir) and deacons printed. Most of the prayers, Prumion, Sedra etc that are recited by the Priest will not be printed.

If you arrive very early; expect 1)Morning prayers 2) Third Hour  3)Sixth Hour.  Page 27 onwards in the link below.
http://www.ds-wa.org/images/stories/resource/litturgy/cheriyanachen/kymtha_evening__morning_book.pdf
Then usually there are three Old testament readings. If you are going this coming Sunday; it is the Sunday before Pentacost which is celebrated as the "Sunday of the Monks" the OT readings as per the lectionary will be:
Leviticus 25: 1 - 13
Joshua 1:5-9
Isaiah 44: 23-25
Then people line up to go and receive 'absolution'. It is referred to as Hoosoyo. If you are planning to receive communion go and line up for the priest to lay his hands on you and recite the prayer of absolution.
Then the celebration of the Holy Qurbana (Divine Liturgy) will begin.
http://marthoman.tv/Orthodox%20Liturgy/Holy%20Qurbana%20English.pdf
There will be three new testament readings. If you are going this coming Sunday the readings willl be:
Acts 21 : 7 - 9
I Corinthians 7: 1- 2, 25 - 34, 9: 1- 10
St. John 17: 13 -26

Do I take my shoes off?
Yes. Everyone takes off their shoes before entering the church.

Is the Body and Blood separate or together?
Body and Blood is given together. So you line up only once to go receive communion.

« Last Edit: May 30, 2014, 04:43:05 PM by dhinuus » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: May 30, 2014, 04:42:49 PM »

Will they have english service books?
Depends on the church. English service books are available online. Most of these including the service books kept at churches will only have the portions recited by the laity (choir) and deacons printed. Most of the prayers, Prumion, Sedra etc that are recited by the Priest will not be printed.

If you arrive very early; expect 1)Morning prayers 2) Third Hour  3)Sixth Hour.  Page 27 onwards in the link below.
http://www.ds-wa.org/images/stories/resource/litturgy/cheriyanachen/kymtha_evening__morning_book.pdf
Then usually there are three Old testament readings. If you are going this coming Sunday the readings as per the lectionary will be:
Leviticus 25: 1 - 13
Joshua 1:5-9
Isaiah 44: 23-25
Then people line up to go and receive 'absolution'. It is referred to as Hoosoyo. If you are planning to receive communion go and line up for the priest to lay his hands on you and recite the prayer of absolution.
Then the celebration of the Holy Qurbana (Divine Liturgy) will begin.
http://marthoman.tv/Orthodox%20Liturgy/Holy%20Qurbana%20English.pdf
There will be three new testament readings. If you are going this coming Sunday the readings willl be:
Acts 21 : 7 - 9
I Corinthians 7: 1- 2, 25 - 34, 9: 1- 10
St. John 17: 13 -26

Do I take my shoes off?
Yes. Everyone takes off their shoes before entering the church.

Is the Body and Blood separate or together?
Body and Blood is given together. So you line up only once to go receive communion.



Thank you so much! I do plan on going early. This helped alot.
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« Reply #3 on: May 30, 2014, 09:20:29 PM »

While I think this goes without saying, just be 100% sure it is a canonical OO Church and not one of the many Eastern Catholic or Protestant knockoffs.

I hope you spiritually benefit from your visit. God bless our Indian brothers in Christ.
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« Reply #4 on: May 30, 2014, 09:45:17 PM »

While I think this goes without saying, just be 100% sure it is a canonical OO Church and not one of the many Eastern Catholic or Protestant knockoffs.

I hope you spiritually benefit from your visit. God bless our Indian brothers in Christ.

I second this.  Make sure it's not a "Mar Thoma" or other heterodox church.
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« Reply #5 on: May 30, 2014, 09:52:28 PM »

It's not. Don't worry guys.
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« Reply #6 on: June 01, 2014, 03:22:19 PM »

It was awesome. I vested and served and rang bells and held a giant candle. And read the acts of the apostles. The people were soooooo nice. Their achen(endearment term for priest) was so sincere and cute and short. And the incense was very Indian. The brunch after was so spicy (even for the parishioners my age. They said it was too much spice). Still kinda overwhelmed but it was so great. #teammor #mor #morephrem
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« Reply #7 on: June 01, 2014, 03:43:41 PM »

I vested and served

Are you an Indian? Did this cause any strange looks? Did you contact them before or did you stumble upon the church declaring your wish to serve? OOs have so many different ethnicities, rites and liturgies so I wonder how these kind of things work in practice.
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« Reply #8 on: June 01, 2014, 04:04:04 PM »

It was awesome. I vested and served and rang bells and held a giant candle. And read the acts of the apostles. The people were soooooo nice. Their achen(endearment term for priest) was so sincere and cute and short. And the incense was very Indian. The brunch after was so spicy (even for the parishioners my age. They said it was too much spice). Still kinda overwhelmed but it was so great. #teammor #mor #morephrem

I'm glad you had a great first visit.  I will pray for your stomach and intestines.  Wink
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« Reply #9 on: June 01, 2014, 04:05:06 PM »

I vested and served

Are you an Indian? Did this cause any strange looks? Did you contact them before or did you stumble upon the church declaring your wish to serve? OOs have so many different ethnicities, rites and liturgies so I wonder how these kind of things work in practice.

I called in advance and spoke with the priest multiple times. I am Egyptian, so I'm medium dark, but white compared to some Indians. A few weird looks because my sticharion(which is an average coptic one) has crosses and is linen, theirs(for deacons) is solid white, no crosses and cotton blend. I was not planning on being vested but the priest insisted so I did and they guided me. Following along was easy. The resurrection service before the liturgy was English and Malayalam, the liturgy was 97% Malayalam. But they had good service books to use. I'm not sure which liturgy we prayed. It was not specified in the book I used. I think this refreshed my love of the Divine liturgy and made me check the amount of reverence due to church services. Amazing spiritual experience. 10/10. I'm giving their priest my priests' numbers for some concelebrations.
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« Reply #10 on: June 01, 2014, 04:08:16 PM »

OOs have so many different ethnicities, rites and liturgies so I wonder how these kind of things work in practice.

Ideally, you should contact the priest of the church to be visited in advance and introduce yourself, and then you'll be welcomed to the sacraments and perhaps invited to serve.  Usually there are a few people to help you along and show you the ropes, tell you what to do, etc.  It's usually not that big a deal.  
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« Reply #11 on: June 01, 2014, 04:27:29 PM »

Seems rather smooth. Good to hear that people don't make any fuss over "wrong" ethnicity.
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« Reply #12 on: June 01, 2014, 04:31:07 PM »

Seems rather smooth. Good to hear that people don't make any fuss over "wrong" ethnicity.

Is that an "EO thing". If so, it's Quite unfortunate. Any orthodox gathering in the name of Christ is a beautiful thing to me.
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« Reply #13 on: June 01, 2014, 04:38:21 PM »

Seems rather smooth. Good to hear that people don't make any fuss over "wrong" ethnicity.

Is that an "EO thing". If so, it's Quite unfortunate. Any orthodox gathering in the name of Christ is a beautiful thing to me.

I have no experiences of visiting other EO churches than my own. It's just that people are like that sometimes. Think of annual inter-Orthodox boxing matches at Jerusalem.
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« Reply #14 on: June 01, 2014, 04:41:27 PM »

Admin's, don't move this thread, BUT that was armenian and Greek. So there's tension anyway due to differences. Unless you're referring to something else
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« Reply #15 on: June 01, 2014, 04:42:58 PM »

Seems rather smooth. Good to hear that people don't make any fuss over "wrong" ethnicity.

Is that an "EO thing". If so, it's Quite unfortunate. Any orthodox gathering in the name of Christ is a beautiful thing to me.

I've experienced it personally, and I know plenty of other EO's on here have talked about it. It seems especially prevalent with "ethnic club"-type parishes.

Do the OO not tend to have such issues in the diaspora (or elsewhere)?
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« Reply #16 on: June 01, 2014, 04:49:57 PM »

Quote from: Nephi link=topic=58693.msg1132170#msg1132170
Do the OO not tend to have such issues in the diaspora (or elsewhere)?
Not that I have heard of. One coptic reader(or subdeacon I'm not sure) loved armenian rite so much, he learned armenian and is kinda bi-ritual. He has celebrated with Syrians a few times(not sure about other OO's). I haven't heard any bad incidents.
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« Reply #17 on: June 01, 2014, 07:04:53 PM »

Do the OO not tend to have such issues in the diaspora (or elsewhere)?

In my experience, we're usually thrilled to see visitors from our sister churches.  It's like a long lost family reunion every time.  Smiley
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« Reply #18 on: June 01, 2014, 07:07:25 PM »

Do the OO not tend to have such issues in the diaspora (or elsewhere)?

In my experience, we're usually thrilled to see visitors from our sister churches.  It's like a long lost family reunion every time.  Smiley

Amen. +5
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« Reply #19 on: June 01, 2014, 07:17:37 PM »

Do the OO not tend to have such issues in the diaspora (or elsewhere)?

In my experience, we're usually thrilled to see visitors from our sister churches.  It's like a long lost family reunion every time.  Smiley

That's really good, I wish that were more the case with us than it can be. Since I'm not X ethnicity or have a certain last name, I was suggested to go to a Protestant church by two different women on one occasion at an EO parish.

What about non-Orthodox visitors of a different ethnicity? How are they generally treated in the diaspora?
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« Reply #20 on: June 01, 2014, 07:30:37 PM »

I've noticed that too when I was being a regular in a Malankara Syrian Church in Georgia, and the priest wanted me to vest when he found out I was a Reader.  But I told him I'm uncomfortable if I am not at least well versed in the rubrics of the rite, so I prefer my place among the congregation.
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« Reply #21 on: June 01, 2014, 07:34:53 PM »

What about non-Orthodox visitors of a different ethnicity? How are they generally treated in the diaspora?

They get hugged and kissed on both cheeks and a friendly person usually comes over to stand near them and show them where we are in the liturgy book.  It can be overwhelming - especially when they don't want a simultaneous translation or play-by-play but would rather just take in the atmosphere - but it's well-intentioned.  Also, some complain of neck pains after having to smile and nod back at the hundreds of parishoners who feel compelled to smile and nod at them.
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« Reply #22 on: June 01, 2014, 07:35:14 PM »


What about non-Orthodox visitors of a different ethnicity? How are they generally treated in the diaspora?

Oooo. Slightly touchy subject. I'm only going to speak on my own church's behalf.
In general, the Coptic orthodox church is split 45% -55%
45% gives the white guy in the corner weird looks and kinda ignores him. Maybe the priest chats with him.
The other 55% ranges from quick introductions to really diving in and helping with translations and following along if needed. and many visitors come with a member they know after a nice discussion or something of the sort. People may disagree with me from one side to the other.
I like to consider my church part of the 55%. We have a few converts. Americans and one Asian guy. One African American. A puerto rican lady and her daughter. her husband is a cradle. her son isn't baptized but we keep him in the youth loop of hanging out, meetings, lunch etc.
Interpret the above as you will. -Hope I helped.

I've noticed that too when I was being a regular in a Malankara Syrian Church in Georgia, and the priest wanted me to vest when he found out I was a Reader.  But I told him I'm uncomfortable if I am not at least well versed in the rubrics of the rite, so I prefer my place among the congregation.

Did you eventually serve there or any other Malankara church? Their chant is simple enough in my eyes so language is the only barrier. They offered me a few responses in English but I wanted to pray internally and observe first.
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« Reply #23 on: June 01, 2014, 07:37:54 PM »


I've noticed that too when I was being a regular in a Malankara Syrian Church in Georgia, and the priest wanted me to vest when he found out I was a Reader.  But I told him I'm uncomfortable if I am not at least well versed in the rubrics of the rite, so I prefer my place among the congregation.

Did you eventually serve there or any other Malankara church? Their chant is simple enough in my eyes so language is the only barrier. They offered me a few responses in English but I wanted to pray internally and observe first.

No, I was only there for 2 months.  I took communion, I learned a lot from the liturgy and was eventually to chant with the crowd some hymns, but it was short-lived.
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« Reply #24 on: June 01, 2014, 07:39:04 PM »

I've noticed that too when I was being a regular in a Malankara Syrian Church in Georgia, and the priest wanted me to vest when he found out I was a Reader.  But I told him I'm uncomfortable if I am not at least well versed in the rubrics of the rite, so I prefer my place among the congregation.

I can +1 this too.  If they find out you're a reader or a chanter, you're gonna vest....oh, you're gonna vest.  Right, Mor?  Wink
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« Reply #25 on: June 01, 2014, 07:41:56 PM »

I know a Deacon from the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church that tried to pull me to visit and vest in a Good Friday service (since they're different calendar) and even told me they'll give me the mic to chant the long Agios for them, but alas, those days I had finals in college.  Tongue

But I heard that some Coptic chanters/readers did in fact do this in a Malankara parish, which is nice Smiley
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« Reply #26 on: June 01, 2014, 07:44:09 PM »

I know a Deacon from the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church that tried to pull me to visit and vest in a Good Friday service (since they're different calendar) and even told me they'll give me the mic to chant the long Agios for them, but alas, those days I had finals in college.  Tongue

But I heard that some Coptic chanters/readers did in fact do this in a Malankara parish, which is nice Smiley

You missed a chance to enlighten their ears to the elegance of Coptic Chant. -1
....Should have done Mournful Taishori or Ke Ipertou  Wink  Wink  Wink


I can +1 this too.  If they find out you're a reader or a chanter, you're gonna vest....oh, you're gonna vest.  Right, Mor?  Wink

Yes.
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« Reply #27 on: June 01, 2014, 07:45:00 PM »

I know a Deacon from the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church that tried to pull me to visit and vest in a Good Friday service (since they're different calendar) and even told me they'll give me the mic to chant the long Agios for them, but alas, those days I had finals in college.  Tongue

But I heard that some Coptic chanters/readers did in fact do this in a Malankara parish, which is nice Smiley

You missed a chance to enlighten their ears to the elegance of Coptic Chant. -1
....Should have done Mournful Taishori or Ke Ipertou  Wink  Wink  Wink

Grades come first in my family custom  Wink
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« Reply #28 on: June 01, 2014, 07:48:29 PM »


Grades come first in my family custom  Wink

Dude, I know. You are hereby absolved of that point I revoked.
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« Reply #29 on: June 01, 2014, 07:56:21 PM »

I know a Deacon from the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church that tried to pull me to visit and vest in a Good Friday service (since they're different calendar) and even told me they'll give me the mic to chant the long Agios for them, but alas, those days I had finals in college.  Tongue

But I heard that some Coptic chanters/readers did in fact do this in a Malankara parish, which is nice Smiley

To be honest, that's why I try to limit my visits of sister churches that don't share our calendar to "neutral" Sundays.  I can't bring myself to pray the Good Friday or other such prayers before it's time to do so on our calendar, or most especially, celebrate the Resurrection on another calendar while we're still in a period of mourning.  For this reason, if I'm going to visit a sister church during holy week, it has to be Eritrean or Ethiopian.

The calendar thing is one of the very few times* that I feel a tinge of separation when visiting a sister church, although I definitely respect and cherish out unity in diversity.





*the other is when the organ - never heard in a Coptic Church - becomes too overwhelming.
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« Reply #30 on: June 01, 2014, 07:58:43 PM »

I know a Deacon from the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church that tried to pull me to visit and vest in a Good Friday service (since they're different calendar) and even told me they'll give me the mic to chant the long Agios for them, but alas, those days I had finals in college.  Tongue

But I heard that some Coptic chanters/readers did in fact do this in a Malankara parish, which is nice Smiley

To be honest, that's why I try to limit my visits of sister churches that don't share our calendar to "neutral" Sundays.  I can't bring myself to pray the Good Friday or other such prayers before it's time to do so on our calendar, or most especially, celebrate the Resurrection on another calendar while we're still in a period of mourning.  For this reason, if I'm going to visit a sister church during holy week, it has to be Eritrean or Ethiopian.

The calendar thing is one of the very few times* that I feel a tinge of separation when visiting a sister church, although I definitely respect and cherish out unity in diversity.





*the other is when the organ - never heard in a Coptic Church - becomes too overwhelming.

You just reminded me...I'm going to rock the boat a bit in another thread, but would love to get a discussion going on this issue
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« Reply #31 on: June 01, 2014, 08:05:16 PM »

I've noticed that too when I was being a regular in a Malankara Syrian Church in Georgia, and the priest wanted me to vest when he found out I was a Reader.  But I told him I'm uncomfortable if I am not at least well versed in the rubrics of the rite, so I prefer my place among the congregation.

I can +1 this too.  If they find out you're a reader or a chanter, you're gonna vest....oh, you're gonna vest.  Right, Mor?  Wink

Pretty much.  We don't ordain to the minor orders as freely as just about everyone else does.  Usually, it's done about a year or so before graduating seminary (so it's a fairly small group of people in the entire Church).  It is otherwise rare, but happens from time to time.  Because of this, it is unheard of for a reader or subdeacon to "take their place among the congregation".  "Their place" is the altar. 
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« Reply #32 on: June 01, 2014, 08:06:58 PM »

I know a Deacon from the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church that tried to pull me to visit and vest in a Good Friday service (since they're different calendar) and even told me they'll give me the mic to chant the long Agios for them, but alas, those days I had finals in college.  Tongue

But I heard that some Coptic chanters/readers did in fact do this in a Malankara parish, which is nice Smiley

Is the long Agios in question the one sung on Good Friday?  That one is spectacular!  Really, most of your Holy Week melodies are quite nice. 
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« Reply #33 on: June 01, 2014, 08:09:19 PM »

I know a Deacon from the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church that tried to pull me to visit and vest in a Good Friday service (since they're different calendar) and even told me they'll give me the mic to chant the long Agios for them, but alas, those days I had finals in college.  Tongue

But I heard that some Coptic chanters/readers did in fact do this in a Malankara parish, which is nice Smiley

To be honest, that's why I try to limit my visits of sister churches that don't share our calendar to "neutral" Sundays.  I can't bring myself to pray the Good Friday or other such prayers before it's time to do so on our calendar, or most especially, celebrate the Resurrection on another calendar while we're still in a period of mourning.  For this reason, if I'm going to visit a sister church during holy week, it has to be Eritrean or Ethiopian.

The calendar thing is one of the very few times* that I feel a tinge of separation when visiting a sister church, although I definitely respect and cherish out unity in diversity.





*the other is when the organ - never heard in a Coptic Church - becomes too overwhelming.

You just reminded me...I'm going to rock the boat a bit in another thread, but would love to get a discussion going on this issue

Hmmm. Never thought about the calendar issue. Everyone's Resurrection And 50 days lined up this year so I guess that worked in my favor.
Resurrection shouldn't be too far away in coming years so some of the 50 Days should line up. Along with some fasts.

They didn't have an organ (thank God).
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« Reply #34 on: June 01, 2014, 08:11:09 PM »


Is the long Agios in question the one sung on Good Friday?  That one is spectacular!  Really, most of your Holy Week melodies are quite nice. 

Most? Watch it, buddy.
*cough*all*cough*
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« Reply #35 on: June 01, 2014, 08:16:47 PM »


Is the long Agios in question the one sung on Good Friday?  That one is spectacular!  Really, most of your Holy Week melodies are quite nice. 

Most? Watch it, buddy.
*cough*all*cough*

Look man, I did my twelve hours this year, I have the right to my preferences.  Tongue
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« Reply #36 on: June 01, 2014, 08:20:24 PM »


Look man, I did my twelve hours this year, I have the right to my preferences.  Tongue

Let's talk about it next year. Hopefully by then your prefrences will matter  Grin
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« Reply #37 on: June 01, 2014, 08:26:22 PM »


Look man, I did my twelve hours this year, I have the right to my preferences.  Tongue

Let's talk about it next year. Hopefully by then your prefrences will matter  Grin

Says the guy who in another thread lumped me in with the "tons of theologians" who rightly teach the word of truth.  Tongue
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« Reply #38 on: June 01, 2014, 08:29:44 PM »


Says the guy who in another thread lumped me in with the "tons of theologians" who rightly teach the word of truth.  Tongue

It was half sarcastic. But I do respect your insight.
The word of truth has nothing to do with your preferences. It's absolutely true regardless of opinion. Check Mate.
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« Reply #39 on: June 01, 2014, 08:32:19 PM »


Says the guy who in another thread lumped me in with the "tons of theologians" who rightly teach the word of truth.  Tongue

It was half sarcastic. But I do respect your insight.
The word of truth has nothing to do with your preferences. It's absolutely true regardless of opinion. Check Mate.

Beaten by Coptic humility yet again!! 
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« Reply #40 on: June 01, 2014, 08:35:14 PM »



Beaten by Coptic humility yet again!! 

Shoot! I can't tell if you're joking!

St. Pachomius teach me Humility!
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« Reply #41 on: June 01, 2014, 08:46:04 PM »

I've noticed that too when I was being a regular in a Malankara Syrian Church in Georgia, and the priest wanted me to vest when he found out I was a Reader.  But I told him I'm uncomfortable if I am not at least well versed in the rubrics of the rite, so I prefer my place among the congregation.

I can +1 this too.  If they find out you're a reader or a chanter, you're gonna vest....oh, you're gonna vest.  Right, Mor?  Wink

Pretty much.  We don't ordain to the minor orders as freely as just about everyone else does.  Usually, it's done about a year or so before graduating seminary (so it's a fairly small group of people in the entire Church).  It is otherwise rare, but happens from time to time.  Because of this, it is unheard of for a reader or subdeacon to "take their place among the congregation".  "Their place" is the altar. 

While we in fact even have chanters in the altar, I was told explicitly that we do this out of concession, that only subdeacons and deacons are technically allowed in the altar.  So I'm not really, according to Coptic ranking if it was strictly followed, "allowed" in the altar.

Granted I am only saying this out of hearsay from a priest (graduate from seminary too) I am close to, but not out of some personal research to confirm.
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« Reply #42 on: June 21, 2014, 03:59:39 PM »

I've noticed that too when I was being a regular in a Malankara Syrian Church in Georgia, and the priest wanted me to vest when he found out I was a Reader.  But I told him I'm uncomfortable if I am not at least well versed in the rubrics of the rite, so I prefer my place among the congregation.

I can +1 this too.  If they find out you're a reader or a chanter, you're gonna vest....oh, you're gonna vest.  Right, Mor?  Wink

Pretty much.  We don't ordain to the minor orders as freely as just about everyone else does.  Usually, it's done about a year or so before graduating seminary (so it's a fairly small group of people in the entire Church).  It is otherwise rare, but happens from time to time.  Because of this, it is unheard of for a reader or subdeacon to "take their place among the congregation".  "Their place" is the altar. 

While we in fact even have chanters in the altar, I was told explicitly that we do this out of concession, that only subdeacons and deacons are technically allowed in the altar.  So I'm not really, according to Coptic ranking if it was strictly followed, "allowed" in the altar.

Granted I am only saying this out of hearsay from a priest (graduate from seminary too) I am close to, but not out of some personal research to confirm.

I've heard that many times. I believe it. If you go look at old liturgies with Pope Kyrillos, the only deacons near the altar are deacons and subdeacons.
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« Reply #43 on: June 21, 2014, 04:08:07 PM »

Quick question- What is the purpose of the little table between the People and the Altar in Syrian rite churches? I was a little confused when I saw it.
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« Reply #44 on: June 21, 2014, 04:26:23 PM »

Quick question- What is the purpose of the little table between the People and the Altar in Syrian rite churches? I was a little confused when I saw it.

In traditional Syriac churches, the Gospel book is kept at the front of the church in this basic location (i.e., between the people and the altar), and people will venerate it upon walking in to the church.  In East Syrian churches (at least those I've been to), the Gospel is placed along with the Cross on a small table, whereas in West Syrian churches, the Gospel is simply kept on a lectern.  What you saw was an East Syrian influence based on our past history.  That table (I presume) had a Gospel book or a Bible, a Cross flanked on either side by candles, and perhaps some other items. 

The table is a remnant of the ancient bema.  Strictly speaking, the only liturgical service that takes place at the altar is the Eucharistic Liturgy.  In the past, even the Liturgy of the Catechumens was conducted at the bema, and after this was done the clergy would enter the altar for the sacrifice.  Nowadays, of course, the entire Liturgy occurs at the altar, but there are some hints pointing to the previous practice (e.g., the OT readings are read outside the altar at the "bema", the Epistles are read from the steps of the altar and not from the altar itself, and the Gospel is technically read at the door of the altar on the same level, but not from the altar itself).  Apart from the Eucharist, all services are conducted at this table (e.g., all daily offices, all sacraments, and other occasional services) or within that general space between the people and the altar.   
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