torsdag 14 december 2017

The Journey East #8

I have so far said little about the joy of Orthodoxy. There are small things about the Orthodox I have noticed for a long time, for example, that those visiting a church stop at the threshold and make the sign of the cross before entering the building.

Our local Franciscans have a library with a well-stocked section with books by Anthony Bloom, Meyendorff, Kontzevich and many others, which I have been reading my way through. One of the most inspiring was “The Unknown Homeland”, an autobiography by a priest from St Petersburg who had been arrested and imprisoned for a year before being sent to a remote village in Siberia, where, his health broken, he died after a few months. Reading these books has been a rewarding exploration in itself.

There is a beautiful church, a re-modelling of a unpromising grey concrete protestant church put up in the 1970s. Obviously, there has been the Divine Liturgy. One can only concur with the emissaries sent by Prince Vladimir of Kiev over 1,000 years ago, who found no beauty in the churches of the Germans, when they came to Constantinople and attended the Divine Liturgy in Hagia Sophia, reported that, “We no longer knew whether we were in heaven or on earth, nor such beauty, and we know not how to tell of it.”

One of the reassuring things about the Liturgy is that it is almost the same every week. One knows pretty much what it will be like. There will be no nasty musical shocks, an important advantage when there is no off-switch in the pews. Then there is the parish priest, Fr. Dragan, who normally celebrates the Divine Liturgy with his son; if there is time, before Liturgy, Fr. Dragan embraces everyone he sees and gives a Holy Kiss.

After Liturgy, there is coffee and a chance to meet. This was difficult at first in the local Serbian/Russian parish because of the language barrier. However, if one is seen a couple of times and recognised, people go out of their way to make one welcome. After a while it turned out that there were quite a few English speakers.

Orthodoxy stands on two legs. There is the beautiful public liturgy. But it is also demanding, since there is a strong emphasis on private actions including fasting and prayer at home.

The spiritual benefits from all of this are quickly perceptible.

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