Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bewilderment


One of the things about traveling during holy days is finding a church to worship in. As today is the Immaculate Conception (Buna Vestire), we wanted to find a church. The only one available was Catholic.

The last time I was in a Catholic service was in India for Christmas. This was a very frustrating experience because not only did we not understand the language, we didn't understand the significance of anything that was being done.

Now, the service was in English, but I still couldn't connect properly. Praying in English has never felt right to me. It seems a bit too harsh a language at times, or much too high-flown. I'm certain no one else feels this— once you grow up in it you don't mind anything about it— but for me it feels awkward, praying in English (This is unique— my mother's Romanian friend feels more comfortable praying in English).

That's number one. Number two is that the churches are different.

Eastern Orthodox churches generally have icons everywhere (the exception is new, poor ones). The altar is separated from the parish's view by an iconostas, which has specific doors. The middle entrance can only be used by the priest. The two side doors are used by the altar boys. The icons on the doors reflect the patron saints of the church, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and the middle two doors have specific icons on them as well.

The Holy Table is in the altar. The… mysteries, for lack of a better word, are performed here, away from the public eye. There is incense and singing throughout most of the service. The service is long, as well. About an hour and a half, not counting the sermon, which depending on the priest can take 15 to 45 minutes.

I miss the smell of incense, and the singing. There was singing in the service we were in today, but only the opening and closing hymns. Otherwise they read from the Gospel, or the priest said his sermon. There was no incense. There were no candles. People bowed without crossing themselves. (This is a bit mind-boggling to me, even though it might seem normal to the rest of you).

The Creed is different. The crosses we make are different. (Head, base of chest, right and left shoulder for Orthodox— thumb, forefinger, and middle finger touching, while the other two lie against the palm. Catholics reverse the shoulder order, and I think they use all four fingers?) 

It's hard to participate in a service when you don't know what is expected of you— even if the entire thing is practically explained step by step. I feel out-of-place, a bit stupid, a bit resentful— if I can't do it right, comfortably, then why try? Why am I the only member of my family that can't feel comfortable here? 

The easiest part of the service is the sermon. This is understandable. This is known territory. I breathe easily. When it's over, the bewildering part of the service begins again.

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