A few-hours long feast liturgy amongst louder and louder songs. Why do they keep singing louder? What do the candles in the sand mean? Who can receive Communion?
Orthodox church in the Holy Land
It was a routine morning and it seemed that no one is in hurry. The prayer already goes on but… it doesn’t mean we’re supposed to be there. Easy. “No one hasn’t come yet.” The priest starts the prayer alone? Exactly. He beggins in the very morning and the church gets filled gradually.
That day I filled it myself also. It was the Greek Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary in Beit Jala. I won’t write about divisions in Christianity and list the differences between confessions. I’ve learned to perceive the variety of churches as a different tradition of the same community (mainly because I’m half Catholic and half Protestant so somehow… it runs in my blood).
Prayer of a few hours
It was 10 o’clock when I finally reached the church and one very nice lady pointed on a page in prayer book so that I keep up with what’s going on. The prayer book – despite the encouraging title “Christian’s friend” turned out to be too complicated and it was hard to understand the secrets of liturgy and I lost the thread. Actually I hadn’t known a lot about the Orthodox church before, apart from one mass in an Orthodox church in Cracow, where I came invited by my friend from Ucraine – I don’t remember but wearing skirt, standing as a statue two hours and not understanding a single word (they use Old Church Slavonic language).
(prayer book “Christian’s friend”)
Women on the right!
This time no one told me to wear skirt, there were pews to sit and the liturgy language was… Arabic. In the entrance you could get a little candle and light it for someone’s benefit leaving in a special stand with sand. Some women were also covering their hair with scarfs and taking them off once they leave. This custom used to be practiced also in Europe, as well as a custom of dividing the church in woman and man part – today in Europe we sit where we wand and here… I realised in the end of the prayer that there were only women around me!
(man’s part of the church)
The incense, sung Gospel, candles, smell of oil, which someone sprinkled on my hand before I’d even realised “what is this bizarre bottle” and congratulations which one lady next to me expressed to the people who received Communion. These were only those who… for three days had fasted from meat and dairy products.
And those songs… In the end it was extremely loud, but somehow it was also beautiful and lively. When the prayer was over, I was surprised, how everyone rushed towards the front part of the church – then I saw them going out with blessed bread, fruits and mint. I got pomegranate!