I recently attended a service at St. Anthony’s Eastern Orthodox church as a part of an assignment for a class that I’m taking this semester. Stepping into this church was almost like stepping into a new world. The way that these Christians worshiped was unfamiliar to me, but it was very interesting to honor God in a new way.
The appearance of St. Anthony’s is unlike anything I am accustomed to. The walls, ceilings, and windows are covered with beautiful artwork depicting events from the life of Jesus and many of the Orthodox saints. Situated in the front of the sanctuary is the iconostasis, which resembles an embroidered set of doors, decorated with elaborate icons. The iconostasis represents the separation between the holy place and the holy of holies. Behind the iconostasis are the bread and wine for Communion and a jewel-encrusted Bible. At no point does the congregation go through the doors of the iconostasis; only the priests are allowed behind it.
When I entered St. Anthony’s, the church was already filled with song. A worship service in an Eastern Orthodox church is already in progress when the congregation begins to arrive. The priests and singers arrive well before the time the service is scheduled to start. They sing praises to God, and the congregation joins in as it arrives. This is done to reflect the fact that God is being worshipped continually in heaven, and as Christians worship they join an activity that has already been going on. Much of the service consists of singing. The priests sing chants, prayers, and readings from Scripture, and the congregation sings responses in unison.
After the hymns are complete, one of the priests preaches a sermon. During my most recent visit to St. Anthony’s the sermon was preached by a young adult instead of a priest since October is youth month in this church. The young woman’s words were sincere and heartfelt. She preached about her experience volunteering with youth at a camp that many of the youths in St. Anthony’s attended. Next, Communion was served. After the priests blessed the bread and wine, they broke the bread into small pieces, put it into the wine, and used a spoon to flick it into the mouths of those taking communion.
I enjoyed my visit to St. Anthony’s. It showed me ways to worship that I was not familiar with. The different sights, sounds, and smells made me appreciate God in a new way. This visit made me want to explore other Christian traditions as well. I hope to learn more about the Orthodox tradition and other Christian groups.