Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bits of Tradition from Saint Aidan's Sunday Bulletin

In the Orthodox Church, you will find processions in the Divine Liturgy, Vespers, at weddings, baptisms, funerals, the consecration of a Church temple, and the service of ordination. Processions are held at many major feast days (such as Holy Friday and Pascha), as well as to commemorate significant events in Church history (such as the Triumph of Icons).

Orthodox liturgical processions usually follow a counter-clockwise circular pattern, either once or three times. The purpose of procession is dedicatory: just as Joshua and the people of Israel encircled Jericho to claim the city for God, we also process in order to dedicate whatever we encircle to God. So, for example, newly baptized Christians are led around the baptismal font as a declaration that they are now committed to living out their baptisms into Christ.

At Saint Aidan's, we conduct two mini-processions at every Divine Liturgy—one with the Gospel book and the other with the gifts of bread and wine. During these processions, the clergy and servers encircle the people, who gather (as they are able) at the centre. In this way, we allow ourselves to be dedicated to the offering, both of the Word of God and the bloodless sacrifice of the Eucharist.

The Iconostasis
A visitor to an Orthodox Church temple will immediately notice the iconostasis, or icon screen, which stands between the nave of the Church temple and the altar area, also known as the sanctuary.

Historically, the iconostasis was a railing designed to keep crowds from pressing forward into the sanctuary. Later, to underscore their importance in worship, icons were mounted on the railings, forming a taller screen. Still later, the screen became a solid wall sealing off the sanctuary from the nave.

At first glance, the iconostasis can give the impression of a barrier between the clergy and the people of God, between profane space and sacred space. In reality, both the nave and sanctuary are consecrated as equally holy spaces. In accordance with its original purpose, the iconostasis preserves the distinct functions of different parts of the Church temple. At the same time, the icons on the screen remind us that our worship is not an abstraction, but is always offered through the mediation of Jesus Christ and the prayers of His Mother and the Saints, who stand as a “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) urging us on our race to eternal glory.

Following the teaching of the Apostles Peter and Paul, who said, “Greet one another with a holy kiss,” (Romans 16:16, 1 Cor. 16:20, 2 Cor. 13:12 and 1 Peter 5:14) Orthodox Christians greet one another at the heart of the liturgy with an embrace and a kiss. In so doing, we seek forgiveness for sins we may have committed against one another, ensuring a spirit of peace and unity before offering our gifts of bread and wine, in accordance with the Lord's command. (Matt 5:24)

In ancient times, it was customary for men to exchange the kiss with other men, women with women, and clergy with clergy. In today's context, the greeting may be exchanged between men and women, as long as it is freely given and willingly accepted with appropriate modesty. In a multicultural climate, the greeting can also take different forms, from a kiss on both cheeks, to a simple hug. Although it may be uncomfortable allowing others into our “privacy bubble,” the intimacy of the kiss reminds us that in the Eucharist, we are joined to one another in a spiritual union more profound than that of marriage.

Here are the greetings (and their associated responses) that we offer one another along with the kiss of peace:

Regular: “Christ is in our midst!”— “He is and ever shall be!”
Feast days: “With the Feast!” – “With the Feast!”
Christmas: “Christ is born!” – “Glorify Him!”
Paschaltide: “Christ is risen!” – “Indeed He is risen!”
Ascension: “God has gone up with a shout!” - “The Lord with the sound of a trumpet!”

Dress in Church
As summer begins, rising temperatures and a stifling church temple may lead us to “dress down” to keep cool. In this season, how can we dress that is both comfortable for us and appropriate for worship?

An answer may be found in the splendor of the priest's vestments, which remind all of us—both clergy and laity—that Christians are “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people,” (1 Peter 2:9) The “Sunday best” of the laity is a faithful reflection of the priest's “Sunday best.” Together, our most splendid attire represents the “first fruits” of our whole life offered to Christ our God.

In a pluralistic cultural, the question of what is “appropriate” is no longer as simple as it once was. In the absence of a widely-accepted social standard, “business casual” offers a good guideline:

For men: dress pants or slacks, shirts with sleeves and collars, dress shoes with socks.
For women: loose pants, dresses or skirts long enough to bend modestly, high-cut blouses with sleeves, dress shoes or sandals

Women may also wear modest head coverings, but this is not required. Men should remove hats or caps while in church.

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