Frosted windows flanking double doors greet congregants, “Shalom”, upon entering the old building, with its neat and unobtrusive exterior which opens into a wide carpeted stairway. Neat, clean industrial carpeting in a neutral shade lead up to the foyer, which is lined with comfortable couches that have a lot of wear left in them, though their colors and upholstery proclaim them as cast-offs from congregants living room redoes. The high walls are panelled in a style that went out in the 70’s and early 80’s, but are clean and polished. It feels like walking into a time warp. The wide opening beyond the foyer beckons you to enter the sanctuary, and a brief look around there is both repelling and fascinating. To the right, wood grained accordion doors contain the sanctuary to roughly the same size to the right and left of the stage.
Wall size painted wooden cutouts (Note: photos show that these are just painted on the wall) of a seven-armed oil lamp candelabra draw your attention above and behind the “altar” or communion table. The far left wall looks like an old overhead slide of seven old testament feasts, redone in carved, painted wooden relief. The message is unclear. Like most overhead slides, the visual requires explanation, but this one is not forthcoming. The sound stand is paneled and adorned with another carved piece, this time a painted representation of an Old Testament priest. Nothing indicates this as being a representation of any particular priest, just of a generic priest, intended, perhaps, more as a representation of a typical priest’s garb.
Large pots contain shiny colored flags and long tall horns, whose use or meaning is not readily apparent.
I’m here for our son’s wedding, and while I was a Protestant so recently that my name is scarcely dry on my chrismation letter (I don’t even know if there is such a thing, it’s a literary device I’m using, so bear with me), I guess I have been spoiled by the richness of Orthodoxy. I am now accustomed to the faces of the saints depicted on the icons that surround our sanctuary, looking down on us as we celebrate the liturgy. This constant reminder of those who have gone before is a mysterious thing. It gives strength to me when I’m failing, it is a comfort when I’m sad, to know these have gone before me, it is a convicting notice when I am faithless that these have suffered all, born great sorrows, heavy trials, given much, endured much for the sake of the cross. The great crowd of witnesses that surround us is represented in part in these icons. The icons of the Blessed Mother and of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Light of Light, True God of True God, everywhere present and filling all things…these are what I have come to expect or to appreciate in our church. To have these blessed gifts absent and some incomprehensible lesson in their places is painful…jarring, even.
The people are lovely and gracious, welcoming and kind, but I feel the way you do when there is a buzzing of unknown origin nearby. It’s unsettling, disturbing. I feel like I’ve entered a foreign country by mistake. As if I had tickets for Granada, Spain, but opened the door of the aircraft to discover I’d arrived in Grenada.
So it turns out that my heart and my spirit longs for the Orthodox Church, the icons, the incense, the liturgy, the prayers, the peace, the sense of holiness and of peace. And that’s a good thing.