Today I am featured as guest blogger at Love Joy Feminism. I have written about the Elsie Dinsmore books, a children’s book series with religious overtones. Go check it out:
May 5th (2013) is Easter (Pascha) according to the calendar used by Eastern Orthodox Churches. May 4th into the 5th was the Easter celebration St George Antiochian Orthodox Church. And I was there. As with my other experiences, the start time was only kinda important. A few people even showed up two hours in; total time was three hours if you can believe that.
At first it was just one guy chanting, the same way Orthodox worship usually begins. Several of the references escaped me but I caught the name Habakkuk, reference to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and Jonah. I guess maybe this was following a central theme of righteous Old Testament folks? Or it could have been explanation of the prophecy and precursors leading up to Jesus- like how this prophet said he would come and that person was saved from death in a similar way. Christian traditions are really reflexive sometimes, making comparisons from one biblical personage to another. I often hear Jesus referred to as a second and almost opposite Adam. Adam arrived and brought sin into the world. Jesus arrived and took it away.
Anyways, back to Pascha. The church was darkened by the extinguishing of the lit candles and all the small glowy electric lights embedded in the icons up front. Then we waited in the dark. It was exciting and I tried to guess what this darkness might be referencing. Was this how the apostles felt after Jesus died? Left in total darkness alone? We don’t know what’s going to happen next, just as the disciples didn’t know. The story of Jesus’ discovery by the women at the tomb happened in the early morning. It probably was still dark then. And there’s also the literal darkness that swept over the land at the moment of Jesus’ death. Dark often represents uncertainty and the unknown. Nobody had a clue that Jesus was anything but plain old dead. Until he came back.
At last something happened; the priest invited us all to take candles and get light from the one large candle he brought forth from the enclosed area around the altar. Remember what I said about the high formality, low uptightness? Well, the candles weren’t out and someone had to go get them. No big deal. I love the comfort level at this place. Almost like they’re saying yeah it’s church but it’s just church. It’s important and all, but you’re allowed to calm down if there’s a snag.
So we went on, candles lit, and walked in a procession right out the front door. We made a little circle walking around the area in front of the church. When the wind wasn’t blowing our candles out it was very pretty. At the door of the church we stopped. There was song and lines to recite and repeat. Finally there was this exchange in which the priest pounded on the church door asking to be let in repeatedly. Someone who stayed inside asked repeatedly who was at the door so that the priest had to name Jesus The Lord and we could all go inside.
Once inside the lights were all on and we ditched the candles in a box. There was more chanting, reciting and singing. This one song in particular we sing over and over again. I wouldn’t be surprised if we sang it a hundred times. I’m not joking, we sang it alot.
Christ is risen from the dead! Trampling down death by death, And on those in the tombs bestowww-iiing life.
Also repeated each time in Arabic which I was actually pretty good at by the end. We sang and prayed and repeated. We said the Lord’s Prayer quite a few times and in several languages. A church I used to attend often said it in Urdu and I do like hearing it in other languages. We also frequently did a prayer I would have called the Glory Be in my Catholic days. Not sure what they call it here. Eventually it was clear they were setting up to share communion. I know I’m not on the list to receive it so I was going to remain in my seat. Then someone who’d greeted me at the start of the night told me I’d be ok coming forward to get a blessing, which I did. This same guy was extremely helpful at the start of this whole long repetitive adventure by having loaned me a book of the parts of the service. It also had the words to my new favorite song about Christ trampling death. So I’m really happy he came up to me.
After communion and wrapping up, we all filled into the adjoining hall to eat food and chat. There were lots of hard boiled eggs, but lots of other good food too. I imagine it’s especially nice for those members of the Orthodox Church who have been fasting both meat and dairy for weeks now. I had some talk with a few of the members of the church who I hadn’t seen my first time. In general everyone was especially friendly and I liked my second visit despite the whole three hours long thing. I may go back next year for Easter. It’s nice that it really doesn’t interfere with my parents’ celebration of Easter.
I’m rather disappointed with the new Pope, Francis. The initial stories seemed encouraging; he did a foot-washing ceremony for women in prison one of whom was Muslim. That’s great seeing as it was always done traditionally with for Christian men. Then there was the fact that he paid his hotel bill after selection as Pope, which is something the Vatican would usually take care of. He was also careful in several instances to call himself Bishop of Rome rather than Pope. The significance in this is humility and also possibly an attempt to appeal to the Eastern Orthodox Church which (along with many Protestants) takes issue with the Papacy and the fact that it has grown so far beyond a simple bishopric.
At the time the new Pope was introduced I was happy with these details but also wondered if these tantalizing bits of progress weren’t possibly just for show while all eyes were on him. I felt I was probably being too cynical and decided to wait and see. Since then I’ve read that the Vatican has restated it’s chiding of that nuns group- you remember? A group of American nuns were called to visit the Vatican then ambushed with accusations that they were too focused on poverty and hunger and ignored such important issues as gay marriage and combatting abortion. This was all during the leadership of the last pope. Well apparently Pope Francis agrees.
Then recently he went ahead and excommunicated a priest in Brazil who spoke regarding homosexuality and open marriage and the possibility that these might be ok. Excommunication is something of a harsh punishment and seems overblown in this case. And it’s striking that other sins priests have committed (child abuse?) do not have excommunication as punishment and in fact are usually “punished” with a look the other way.
Of course I dunno why I’m surprised. The Catholic Church has never been about conversation between members and leadership. The hierarchy is just too tight. I guess I was hoping Pope Francis was ready to relax a bit and listen. These incidents suggest perhaps not. Whatever, I guess I’ll keep waiting to see what happens.
My grandad got into fights. I suppose there’s a little of that in me because sometimes I’d like to think problems just need a good punch in the face to solve them. Unfortunately I can’t think of a single problem that could really be solved that way. Lucky for me (and all of us) there’s some other ways to do things. Yesterday at the church I chose to revisit, the entire congregation was invited to write letters to reps in congress asking them to find room in the budget for programs that reduce hunger. We actually all did this together after the service was over. Then someone collected all the letters and mailed them in a group. I wrote one. And I visited this website that has info and a petition you can sign:
In the middle of the second paragraph there is text you can click to sign the petition.
In a nation as advanced as ours, hunger is a stupid problem to still have. We should fix it, so we can move on and get to fixing some other problems.
So, thirty churches seems an arbitrary number to stop, take stock and breathe for a little while. Also, I happen to be in the midst of a project at home that will be taking a significant amount of time. For the next month (at least) I’ll take it easy, visit some repeat churches, and write my thoughts. Expect posts to be shorter for a while. I do have a date with a second Easter this year in early May, so you can all look forward to that. Hopefully I’ll be back to regular new church visits very soon. I’ve got some exciting ones on the way, including one apparently in Spanish, so do stay tuned for eventual awesomeness.
I borrowed a book out of the library about saints. I looked up the name Daniel first to see if any interesting saints share his name. There was one; St Daniel the Stylite. Sadly, stylite does NOT mean fashion obsessed. It means he lived on a pole. As in, he was up there all the time. For years.
Now, Daniel wasn’t the first guy to do this or even the first saint to do it. So here’s what I learned about the phenom.:
Saints (and other wackys I suppose) sometimes decided to leave the world and escape by climbing a pillar and living atop it. Usually only a small platform topped the pillar and they would literally stay up there for a matter of years. The less resilient ones would build a small hut up there as protection from the elements, but most just had the platform on which they stood for hours at a time. And everything I’ve read suggests they really never came down. I’m not entirely sure how they slept up there, maybe they trained to meditate without moving, or were insomniacs slowly going crazy, I don’t know. I even looked up modern pole sitting to see if that would give any insight. Apparently one modern pole-sitter lodged his thumbs into holes in the pole and took naps that way, using the pressure on his thumbs to right himself as he swayed. I think this sounds like a great way to break you thumbs, but what do I know?
Also disconcerting to think about is the call of nature. Ok you’re on a pole, what do you do? I read that boys would send up baskets of food for the stylites, so you know they ate. My best guess here for afterwards is they raised and lowered a chamber pot. One modern pole sitter used a long tube to the ground. I can’t imagine any way for them to bathe up there and I’m sorry to say they had no Purell, so stylites must have been
absolutely filthy somewhat grungy.
You’d think people would keep away from these weirdos, but it was just the opposite. Folks would come far and wide to ask the Saint’s advice, blessing, and prayer. Sometimes the Saint would perform a miracle. Often he would preach from atop his pillar and sometimes he would dictate letters. Why did people flock to see these guys anyway? Curiosity? Piety? Honestly I can’t think of a single example of something even remotely similar in today’s world. Make your own conclusions; I find this one strange beyond description.
Besides Daniel, here are some other stylites:
Saint Simeon the Elder
Saint Simeon the Younger
Saint Luke the Younger
Church name/type: Third Reformed Church, Albany, RCA
Pastor: The sermon was given by a Preaching Elder named Pete Pagerey. He was visiting from First Church in Albany. Not sure who the usual pastor is.
Style of worship: Formal worship structure, mildly casual
Overall Impression: Um, old vibe? Otherwise not much impression at all.
Thoughts: I didn’t get much of a strong vibe from this church. I mean it wasn’t that great, wasn’t that bad. The parking lot is at the back of the church and a fence stops you from walking around to the front door. The back door leads to a hall and rooms attached to the church, but it wasn’t too hard finding the worship space from there. The parishioners seem to have chit-chat time both before and after service in an adjoining room. I didn’t feel like trying the before-service variety, so I just collected my thoughts and waited for things to start. I like the program pamphlet at this place. It gave hymn numbers for each song and even the short responses. If I were a regular member I’m sure I’d have the responses by heart. The fact that they were included makes me feel more welcome as a guest.
The regular pastor was off, so we listened to an Elder (a pastor, I think) borrowed from another church. He did an interesting children’s time about bird calls. We need to learn about different bird’s calls, but god knows our voices without having to look them up in some way. Moving on, the sermon was about Thomas the apostle and his famous reaction to Jesus’ return while Thomas was absent. Thomas so often gets a bad rap. But maybe he shouldn’t. We heard that Thomas was lacking in faith and this was because of ‘emotional’ hesitance. Thomas was upset because he couldn’t believe that Jesus would a) leave and then b) come back. So Jesus was nice enough to reappear just for him.
Honestly the message about Thomas lost me somewhere. I think the point was supposed to be -let’s not pick on poor Thomas. I dig that, but the reason was unclear. Are we supposed to see Jesus as someone who indulges us when we don’t believe ‘emotionally’? If so, why doesn’t he appear to all of us? What gives Thomas the right to the preferential treatment? Or is Jesus only corporeal for limited time, like he’s running out of…I don’t know, ectoplasm or something? The message confused me enough that I started daydreaming again about the stained glass windows. They are so green and so plain. Why? Don’t stained glass windows usually have pictures? Are we supposed to imagine our own? I don’t mind!
The last thing I will add is the demographic in this church tended older. Those I chatted with after service were probably more than a decade my senior. They assured me their church was diverse, but mostly they looked old and European. The young family was also the black family, so that’s not alot. On the other hand the church was not well filled. One family constitutes a significant chunk if the number is low enough. I guess it’s a bit disappointing either way.
Their website: Needs fixing! There is a link for ‘worship’ that leads to an error message. If I want service times and don’t see them on the main page, I would click the word worship. Having to dig around on a partly broken website for when to show up is not a good first impression.