Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Protection of the Holy Virgin Russian Orthodox Church

Back in '02 I visited a Russian Orthodox church in a Russian speaking country.
I had no clue what anybody was saying, but the chanting sounded beautiful and the church looked like something out of a storybook. This morning I attended The Protection of the Holy Virgin Russian Orthodox Church in Hollywood, just off the 101 freeway. They spoke in English, but I still frankly had no clue what anybody was saying. The chanting still sounded beautiful, albeit distracting at times. The church looked... well... like somebody had littered a basement with framed paintings and candelabras.

As I am about to demonstrate, I am not an expert in what it means to be orthodox. Clearly, however, all the saints (and more than a few minor Biblical characters) hold tremendous weight with the church; if they are not on equal footing with Jesus, they are nonetheless greatly elevated above us mere mortals. Instead of congregations I am accustomed to which kneel before a cross and pray to Jesus, the Russian Orthodox customs include bowing down to the apostles, the Biblical authors, the guy who cleaned the manger where Jesus was born, the man who grew the grapes for the wine used in the Last Supper, etc. Seriously, ever see the beginning of "The Muppet Show"? That is what the alter-area looks like.

No disrespect intended; I am merely pointing out that those who may be confused by the 3-in-1 concept of the trinity are really going to be overwhelmed by number of folks to pray to in the Russian Orthodoxy.

To be blunt (uncharacteristic of me, I know), the worship service is not really geared towards the congregation. The liturgy is an offering to God (and all the saints and on and on). Those in attendance are merely bystanders -- and I mean that literally, because one does not sit during the worship service. If your legs get tired of standing, you can always walk to your favorite portrait of your favorite Biblical pal and light a candle or kiss the picture or kiss the floor or make the sign of the cross. Meanwhile, there is a small chorus in the balcony offering up chants "unto the ages of ages," which to me is one of those place-holder phrases that really doesn't mean anything. For that matter, the word "ineffable" was used a few times and the late Douglas Adams pointed out its vagueness means it can be dropped in front of almost any word or person with no impact whatsoever.

There was no spoken word portion of the service; everything was chanted or sung, including the Bible readings. There is a cadence all involved seem to adopt, and after 30 minutes or so, my dark, comedic mind envisioned a comedy sketch wherein that is how they speak throughout their everyday life (ordering from a drive-thru, grocery shopping, etc.). This thought made me giggle, which didn't please those standing near to me. I pondered heading over to a nearby portrait and lighting a candle, but the man depicted appeared to be "Fat Elvis" and I much preferred the more spry Elvis of the '68 comeback special. I looked around but couldn't find any images of that king.

The sanctuary itself felt cluttered, with framed portraits covering the walls and -- in some cases -- plopped in the middle of the room. As is the custom, the alter itself is blocked from view. There were secret doors and panels leading in and out of the alter area. The priests did most of their work behind what looked like the doors to a wild west saloon. Occasionally, a guy who looked like either a Number Two Lead Pencil or a Marshmallow Peep (depending on the angle) would walk around with his "shaky-shaky" incense dispenser and stink up the place. For a while, some folks approached a priest for some sort of private prayer moment, and -- hand-to-God -- the priest would lift up part of his robe and put the other person under it while he prayed with them. I'm going to admit that I, personally, would not be comfortable with that level of priestly intimacy.

I hope any Russian Orthodox readers can find the humor in all this, because -- obviously -- without context I had no clue what was going on. A few positives: no children's message, no "greetings," no PowerPoint. Primary negative: no clue what was going on.

Which is why today I doubled-up and attended a second worship service.


Sunday Scorecard

What is the contact info for the church?

The Protection of the Holy Virgin Russian Orthodox Church
2041 Argyle Ave.
Hollywood, CA 90068

What was the denomination?

Russian Orthodox

What Bible verses were referenced?

Something from Paul and something from John (chanting made that tough to identify)

What are the demographics of the congregation?

Well... um... Russian

Was the atmosphere formal or casual?

Very formal environment

What was the music like?

Acapella chanting

How was the use of PowerPoint?


Being Hollywood, were there celebrities in the congregation?

Not that I could tell

No comments:

Post a Comment