Bouquet Lineup

The one in the middle is from Klara. She gathered them in a field by her school.

Orthodoxy in America

This observation will probably interest no one but I feel compelled to share it.

It’s a lot harder to practice Orthodox Christianity in North America than where I’m from. What makes it harder is the influence of Protestantism on how the building of the church is organized on the inside.

Protestants expect pews, so Orthodox churches in North America tend to have pews. Pews work for a short, interactive Protestant service. But for a long, very scripted and repetitive Orthodox service, pews are a very bad idea. You end up stuck in a pew, standing and sitting in a confined space, with your face turned towards the altar where not much is happening.

To entertain themselves and make the three hours of this activity bearable, the faithful stick their noses into the brochures where the script of the service is printed. It’s like a weird reading room. Everybody is glued to the booklet. To make the reading possible, the lights are on at full blast. And guess what people aren’t looking at because they are looking into the brochures instead?

The holy icons. People spend practically no time, aside from when they first come in and before leaving, with the icons. It becomes unclear why the icons are there to begin with. My parish is getting a bunch of new holy icons written but what’s the point if nobody will spend any time with them?

This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.

A traditional Orthodox service has no pews. People aren’t supposed to stand in place and stare either at the priest’s back or into a brochure. There is no brochure.

Instead, people circulate. They move among the icons and commune with them in the semi-darkness while the service goes on around them. The music, the penumbra, the sweet smoke, and the repetitive cadences of the service put them in a highly relaxed state where the experience of talking to the holy icons becomes really intense. There’s a bench around the perimeter for the elderly who get tired but that’s it. And the priest doesn’t have to do the service feeling the stare of every parishioner honed in on his back.

This is a clear example of religious syncretism, and as every example of it, it’s not good.