Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Romance and Allure of Tradition and Christian orthodoxy

[I saw the following excerpt on the website of an Antiochian Orthodox mission church. The excerpt comes from a book called The New Faithful and is about the embracing of tradition and Christian orthodoxy by young adults. This particular passage refers to the worship of the Byzantine East. What it says of the Byzantine East can likewise be said of and be witnessed in the churches and communities that use the classical Roman liturgy, as well as the liturgy inspired by the Reform of the Reform. It is a beautiful testimony to an often forgotten reality. A reality which seems to be all too ignored when people suggest there is a need to be relevant. One which fails to realize that in our need to address modern mankind, tradition is not an obstacle or barrier, but can actually be the hook and the medicine so desperately sought after. On to the excerpt...]

The Romance of Orthodox Worship

"As the last rays of sunlight streamed throught the church's stained-glass windows, crystal chandeliers and flickering candles compensated for the waning daylight. A crop of about forty young adults filed into the nave, each carrying one delicate white candle and a prayer book. Their faces illuminated by the tiny flames, the crowd faced the iconostasis, the tall screen decorated with doors and tiers of icons that separates the sanctuary from the main part of an Eastern Orthodox church.

"That screen -- and the purple-and-gold-clad priest who, at times, turned his back to the congregation -- seemed almost incongrous with this congregation of twenty-- and thirty-something worshipers, many of whom wore jeans or khaki pants. The contrast between ancient and modern became even more pronounced when the priest began to sing a cappella. He sang for most of the two-hour service, accompanied at times by a cadre of men at the right of the iconostasis and at other times by the entire congregation. The music seemed to morph into a chant, a mournful, almost mystical melody that wafted throught the church like the thick, sweet incense that saturated the April night air.

"For all but a few moments during the service on this Monday night of Holy Week in 2001, the congregaton stood. They repeatedly touched their fingers to their foreheads and chests, making the sign of the cross at each mention of Jesus, the Trinity, or Mary. Some rocked gently back and forth, their eyes closed, their lips mouthing some songs.

"In a back pew, Andrea Whitson sat holding her candle to her chest. The flame bathed her delicate features in a soft glow that left her looking much younger than her thirty-one years. As the haunting music and incense enveloped her, she seemed lost in adoration, utterly at home in the mystery, rigor, and reverence that is Orthodox worship."

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