Last Sunday Grace middle schoolers Charlotte, Jonah, and Zoe went on a field trip to Archangels' Greek Orthodox Church in Watertown, along with Gayle Larson and me.
An Orthodox service runs nearly two hours, and you'd think our kids (and their adult compatriots) might have found it overlong or tedious, but it was an extravagant time. The sanctuary was ringed with icons of saints, as you might expect. But the whole experience of chant and incense and motion made this a rich act of worship.
Now, your senior warden has always been a language fanatic. So the fact that at least half of the service was in Greek - instantly cool. If you transported a first century Christian into the 21st century, they could follow the service at Archangels' Church. That we were hearing the epistle and gospel and Lord's Prayer as originally written down - thrilling.
Ok, if you don't speak Greek you could feel pretty lost in parts of the service. Yep, that would be me and Gayle and our middle schoolers. What is it like to hear prayers lifted up which you don't understand? An almost impenetrable barrier seems to exist between people who don't speak the same language. Come to think of it, do any two people in this fallen world speak entirely the same language?
But then - the Orthodox prayerbook has the English text on each page opposite the Greek, and see, the Divine Liturgy is very familiar to us! Of course. Not only does our liturgy (even our word "liturgy") come from this world, but it turns out that all Christians have been taught to pray by the same Lord. We have common needs inherited as brothers and sisters in a single humanity.
Obvious lessons? Not so obvious when we actually feel a failure of communication. When we feel unable to connect with someone we want to connect with. Or when we don't get what we need to make sense of our world.
Then we're wise to remember - if we had a translation of other peoples' "prayerbooks" (metaphorically speaking), we'd realize how close we are so much of the time. And between us at Grace Church, who are knit by ties of friendship as well as faith, please always keep in mind that communication is occasionally hard, but is always the work of the whole parish. You can help me to know what it is that you need to know, and to tell priest and wardens whatever it is that you need to say. Make a note - I'll be speaking about our ministry search and other topics at Grace Discussion on June 9th. Come and participate.
Communication? Why, this Sunday is Pentecost (at least in the Western Churches!) On this day we celebrate the undoing of the Tower of Babel and the reuniting of all people across barriers of speech. As it says in the Office of Morning Prayer (itself translating from the Greek original) -
"for with your blood you have redeemed for God
from every family, language, people and nation
a kingdom of priests to serve our God"